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UK court ruling leaves Johnson with fewer options on Brexit

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's campaign to leave the European Union hit another roadblock when the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom ruled that his decision to recess parliament was illegal. Ciaran Jenkins of Independent Television News reports on the details, and John Yang gets analysis on the impact on Brexit from former National Security Council staff Charles Kupchan.

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  • William Brangham:

    British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's campaign to leave the European Union, deal or no deal, hit a roadblock today.

    The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom ruled that his decision to recess Parliament was illegal, and that lawmakers can return to work immediately.

    In a moment, John Yang will explore what's at stake.

    But, first, Ciaran Jenkins with Independent Television News has all the details from another chaotic day.

  • Ciaran Jenkins:

    For U.K. democracy, a defining day — for the prime minister, devastating.

    Boris Johnson's reasons for suspending Parliament, the reasons he gave the queen, torn to shreds by the country's 11 most senior judges, unanimously.

  • Brenda Hale:

    The decision to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament was unlawful.

  • Ciaran Jenkins:

    We were witnessing, said the Supreme Court president, a one-off, history forged, as the prime minister's five-week suspension of Parliament was overturned.

  • Brenda Hale:

    Parliament has not been prorogued. This is the unanimous judgment of all 11 justices.

  • Ciaran Jenkins:

    The consequences, enormous and immediate. Boris Johnson's political opponents, through the courts, will have him hauled back before Parliament.

  • Joanna Cherry:

    So, there is nothing to stop us members of Parliament such as myself and my colleagues from resuming immediately the important job of scrutinizing this minority Tory government as we hurtle towards Brexit.

  • Ciaran Jenkins:

    And so Parliament is soon to be unlocked.

  • John Bercow:

    I'm ready for work. I shall be in my chair tomorrow, and I look forward to Parliament sitting. And we will go about our business. That's our responsibility.

    And I will do my bit. It's only a part of the story. A lot of other people will, I'm sure, do their bit.

  • Question:

    Do you expect the prime minister…

  • John Bercow:

    And that's what the public would expect.

  • Question:

    Do you expect the prime minister to be sitting there as well?

  • John Bercow:

    I have no idea who will and won't be there, but I will be there.

  • Question:

    Prime Minister, are you going to resign?

  • Ciaran Jenkins:

    He's staying as prime minister, but rushing back ahead of schedule tonight from the U.N. General Assembly.

  • Boris Johnson:

    I strongly disagree with this judgment. And we in the U.K. will not be deterred from getting on and delivering on the will of the people to come out of the E.U. on October the 31st.

  • Ciaran Jenkins:

    The final, monumental word, though, is the Supreme Court's. Its ruling on these two legal challenges begin to set the U.K. Constitution in stone.

  • Gina Miller:

    Today's ruling confirms that we are a nation governed by the rule of law, laws that everyone, even the prime minister, is not above.

  • Ciaran Jenkins:

    And so Boris Johnson is forced back tomorrow to Westminster and a deluge of scrutiny.

  • John Yang:

    Stormy days for British politics.

    So where does all this leave Boris Johnson, and where does it leave Brexit?

    Charles Kupchan is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a professor at Georgetown University. During the Obama administration, he was the senior director for European affairs.

    Mr. Kupchan, thanks for being here.

  • Charles Kupchan:

    Sure.

  • John Yang:

    Where does this leave Brexit? The deadline is five weeks away. What is the practical effect of this ruling today?

  • Charles Kupchan:

    Well, it's a political bombshell of sorts, in that there isn't a written Constitution in the U.K. No one knew how the Supreme Court was going to act.

    They didn't mince their words. They said Boris Johnson is standing in the way of the constitutional functions of Parliament, that it's unlawful, that it's void. And Parliament was supposed to be suspended for several more weeks. It's meeting tomorrow.

    It hems Boris Johnson in even more. But there was already legislation passed by Parliament before he suspended it that said a no-deal Brexit cannot happen. So, right now, he doesn't have a lot of good options.

    On October 17-18, there is a meeting of the heads of state of the E.U. He will go. He will make one last pitch to get a deal. He probably is not going to get it. And, at least according to Parliament, he then has to say, I need an extension.

  • John Yang:

    Yes, he has to ask the E.U. for an extension?

  • Charles Kupchan:

    Yes.

  • John Yang:

    What are the chances that the E.U. will give him that?

  • Charles Kupchan:

    I would say a high likelihood, because, if they didn't give him an extension, then Brexit would be on the E.U.'s watch.

    So, he will get it. But I think the key question is, will he ask for it? He has made his claim to fame on, we are getting out on October 31, no matter what. Is he going to ask for that extension? Is he going to defy Parliament?

    He may end up in jail if he did that, because he would be breaking the law.

  • John Yang:

    Prime Minister Johnson has been in office for about two months now. He's lost a series of major votes in Parliament. He's lost his working majority in Parliament. He's losing members of his Conservative Party.

    What does this — what did today do to his standing? Can he remain as prime minister?

  • Charles Kupchan:

    I think he will probably stay at least for a few more weeks to get to that conversation with the E.U. to see if he can't get a deal.

    I'm guessing that he will stay, and not resign, in part because what he really would like is an election. But he wants an election before October 31, because, after that, if he's asked for an extension, the Brexit people may not — may have lost confidence in him.

    The opposition wants an election to come after October 31, precisely because Boris Johnson will be weaker. Right now, it's anybody's guess how this plays out in the next few weeks, but, at least for now, it looks like Brexit won't happen on October 31 because the Parliament has forbid it. The Parliament is now backed by the Supreme Court.

  • John Yang:

    So, taking a bigger picture, or pulling back a little bit, what's the effect of all this chaos in Britain on the world, on the United States?

  • Charles Kupchan:

    Well, I think it's safe to say that Britain is going to be tied up in knots for years, because whether Brexit happens or whether it doesn't happen, they will be trying to sort this out, their relationship with the E.U., their relationship with the United States.

    Britain is effectively missing in action. It's closed for business. That is a problem for a country that has been the closest partner of the United States. We, as this newscast has been saying, are also tied up in knots politically.

    So it's interesting that, at this moment, the two Anglo-Saxon countries most responsible for building modernity as we know it, the globalized world, are in deep political trouble.

  • John Yang:

    Charles Kupchan, thank you very much.

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