Gina Miller, a businesswoman and leading anti-Brexit campaigner, said she had applied for an urgent judicial review challenging "the effect and the intention" of the suspension. Picture: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP
Gina Miller, a businesswoman and leading anti-Brexit campaigner, said she had applied for an urgent judicial review challenging "the effect and the intention" of the suspension. Picture: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP

London — Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s suspension of parliament just weeks before Britain's EU departure date faced legal challenges on Thursday amid an outcry from pro-Europeans and MPs opposed to a no-deal Brexit.

Johnson announced the surprise decision on Wednesday to suspend parliament — known as proroguing — for nearly five weeks next month, claiming it was necessary to enable him to pursue a “bold and ambitious” new domestic agenda.

But the move shocked the British political system, which relies on centuries of precedents and conventions instead of a codified constitution.

In a blow to Johnson, popular Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said she was stepping down after eight years during which she turned her party's fortunes in Scotland.

Davidson, who supported staying in the EU, urged Johnson to clinch a deal with Brussels and mentioned the “conflict I have felt over Brexit” in her resignation letter.

Johnson’s opponents have labelled the suspension of parliament a “coup” and a “constitutional outrage” and it prompted immediate court bids in London and Edinburgh to halt the process.

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, has requested an audience with Queen Elizabeth to voice his opposition to the suspension, and so did Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson.

Labour finance spokesperson John McDonnell said his party would not let Johnson behave like a "dictator".

At least two legal challenges were announced. Gina Miller, a businesswoman and leading anti-Brexit campaigner, said she had applied for an urgent judicial review, challenging “the effect and the intention” of the suspension.

“We think that this request is illegal,” said Miller, who in 2017 won in court the right for MPs to vote on formal moves to leave the EU.

Scottish National Party (SNP) politician Joanna Cherry said lawyers had applied for an urgent interim hearing at Scotland’s highest civil court, which they hoped would be as early as Thursday.

Brexiteer minister Jacob Rees-Mogg defended the suspension, and insisted MPs would still have time to debate Brexit before Britain’s October 31 EU departure date.

“The candyfloss of outrage, which is almost entirely confected, is from people who never wanted to leave the EU,” he said on BBC radio.

Thousands of people protested in London, Manchester, Edinburgh and other cities, while an online petition seeking to block the decision had garnered more than 1.3-million signatures by early Thursday.

At the biggest rally, crowds gathered near parliament in London chanting “stop the coup” and waving EU flags.

The queen approved the request to end what has been the longest session of parliament in nearly 400 years in the second week of September and reopen it on October 14 — a little more than two weeks before Brexit.

The House of Commons typically goes into recess during the annual party conference season, which starts on September 14 and ends on October 2, but critics slammed this more lengthy break.

Corbyn has said he may call a no-confidence vote in Johnson’s government, which has a majority of only one seat.

The pound remained under pressure on Thursday after sliding on news of the suspension.

In the seismic 2016 referendum on Britain's EU membership, 52% voted in favour of leaving the bloc, a result that has divided parliament and country bitterly.

Johnson insists Britain must leave by the October 31 deadline — already twice-delayed — with or without a divorce deal from Brussels.

Parliament has rejected three times the withdrawal agreement struck between Brussels and the government of Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May.

Eurosceptics objected to the “backstop” provision to keep the Irish border open for people and goods, which contains clauses that would keep Britain closely aligned with the EU.

Johnson, who took office barely a month ago, wants the EU to drop the backstop measure entirely, something Brussels has repeatedly ruled out.

An EU summit on October 17-18 could determine whether there is any scope for compromise.

If not, Britain will end its four decades of membership without a deal governing key issues such as future trade relations and citizens' rights.

AFP