Former UK prime minister in Brexit court challenge

John Major has criticised new leader Boris Johnson over his move to suspend parliament

Britain's former Prime Minister John Major gives a speech on Brexit in London, February 28, 2018. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

Former UK prime minister John Major will take legal action against the current occupant of 10 Downing Street to stop the suspension of parliament before the October Brexit deadline.

Mr Major announced on Friday his plan to join one of three legal efforts to prevent the current premier Boris Johnson from cutting the number of days that MPs would sit before his “do or die” effort to bring the UK out of the European Union on October 31.

Mr Major – from the same party as Mr Johnson - served as prime minister from 1990 to 1997 and has been one of the most forceful voices opposing Britain’s departure from the European Union.

He said in June, before Mr Johnson came to power, that any effort to suspend parliament to force through Brexit against the will of the majority of MPs was “hypocrisy of a gold-plated standard”.

Pro Brexit demonstrators parade their banner past the Treasury building in London, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019. Political opposition to Prime Minister Boris Johnson's move to suspend Parliament is crystalizing, with protests around Britain and a petition to block the move gaining more than 1 million signatures. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Mr Johnson has ordered a suspension of parliament for up to five weeks in what his opponents say is an attempt to muzzle opponents of his plans.

In a statement released on Friday, Mr Major said that he was fulfilling a promise to take legal action against Mr Johnson.

He will join legal action already started by anti-Brexit campaigner, the businesswoman Gina Miller, who has accused Mr Johnson of a “brazen attempt” to prevent his government being held accountable for its conduct.

MPs loyal to Mr Johnson claim that the suspension has precedence in a country that has no written constitution. It relies on previous practice as a guide to parliamentary procedures and making laws.

“The idea this is some kind of constitutional outrage is nonsense,” said Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.

Opponents of Mr Johnson lost the first battle in their multi-pronged legal campaign to try to stop the suspension of parliament following a ruling on Friday by a judge in Scotland.

But some MPs, including some from Mr Johnson’s own party, said they were still confident of stopping the UK leaving the 28-nation bloc on October 31 without a deal in place on future political and trading relations.

Oliver Letwin, a former ruling party minister and leader of the rebels, told the BBC there was probably enough time even with a temporary shutdown.

“I know that there are a number of my colleagues who feel as I do, that a disorderly no-deal exit is a very bad idea, and they have in the past been willing to come and support efforts to prevent that happening and I very much hope that will happen again,” he said.

The move could force Mr Johnson to delay Brexit unless the premier was able to strike a deal with Brussels.

The dispute is set to play out in highly-charged parliamentary hearings next week after MPs return from their summer break.

Mr Johnson has sought to head off a rebellion by suggesting that UK Brexit negotiators would sit down with their EU counterparts twice a week in September to try to secure a new deal.

The dispute between the UK and the EU is centred around plans for a so-called backstop, the fallback position aimed at preventing manned posts on the border between EU-member the Republic of Ireland, and the UK after Brexit.

Boris Johnson wants to scrap it. But Ireland's deputy prime minister, Simon Coveney, said that the UK had not put forward any credible alternatives to the backstop.