U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday denied lying to Queen Elizabeth II over the advice he gave her about a bill suspending Parliament — as he struggles to find a way to complete Britain’s departure from the E.U. and contend with coordinated opposition to the so-called Brexit.
“Absolutely not and indeed as I say the High Court in England plainly agrees with us but the Supreme Court has to decide,” he told the BBC, when asked if he lied to her when he gave his reasons to suspend Parliament.
The queen suspended Parliament this week until a Queen’s Speech on Oct. 14. She did so on the advice of Johnson. While it is a standard move in parliamentary procedure, it is controversial as well, with the U.K.’s Oct. 31 deadline for leaving the E.U. looming large.
Johnson, however, advised the queen that it was because his government needs to launch a new domestic agenda starting next month. It is a generally accepted rule that the monarch should not be forced to take a side in a political debate wherever possible, and doing so is seen as a significant breach of parliamentary protocol.
The English High Court said that decision was not one for the courts, but Scotland’s highest court ruled Wednesday that it was illegal “because it had the purpose of stymieing Parliament.”
However on Thursday an Irish court rejected the claim that it was illegal because it risked undermining the Northern Irish peace process. As Johnson said, it now goes to the country’s Supreme Court for a final call.
Johnson replaced Prime Minister Theresa May by promising to get Britain out of the E.U. with or without a formal withdrawal agreement by the deadline. But last week Parliament passed a bill ordering him to seek a Brexit delay if there is no deal formed.
Johnson responded by calling for a general election, but that did not get enough votes to be formally called. The opposition does not want an election until after a delay has been achieved. It is not yet clear if Johnson will seek that delay as Parliament has instructed.
The government was also forced by lawmakers to release the government’s assessment of the fallout from a no-deal Brexit. The document, “Operation Yellowhammer” predicts huge delays at ports and possible food and medicine shortages. The government has downplayed those predictions, saying they were made before the government started accelerating preparations.
Johnson faces a significant anti-Brexit bloc in Parliament, as well as pressure from the right in the form of the Brexit Party.
While leader Nigel Farage has offered Johnson an electoral pact if he sticks with a no-deal Brexit, he could also prove to be a thorn in Johnson’s side if the government delays the departure further and pro-Brexit Tories defect to the Brexit Party in any future election.
Johnson will be all too aware of the political perils that come with delaying Brexit in favor of seeking a withdrawal agreement. He took office, after all, after May was unable to get her Brexit deal through Parliament, even with multiple delays to Britain’s departure from the European bloc.