London stocks opened the week lower as traders awaited the outcome of a key Brexit-related court case.
Both the blue-chip FTSE 100 index and the more domestically-focused FTSE 250 lost ground, although this weakness was mirrored across Europe.
Parliament “wrongly silenced”
The FTSE lost 0.66% to 7,296.45 and the FTSE 250 was 0.91% lower at 19,985.81.
Eleven justices of the UK’s Supreme Court are to rule on whether the Government was right to ask the Queen to suspend Parliament for a short period. The Queen assented to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s request. Although the decision itself cannot be judicially reviewed, the judges can rule on whether the advice she received from Mr Johnson was correct.
In a three-day hearing last week, the justices were told by the Government’s lawyers that the suspension was not a matter for the courts, while lawyers for those opposing the suspension argued that Mr Johnson was wrongly trying to silence Parliament for five weeks in the countdown to Brexit.
This case is part of a wider constitutional crisis of a sort unseen since the deadlock of the so-called People’s Budget, a 1909 financial measure to raise taxes on the wealthy to fund social welfare. It was blocked in the House of Lords, leading to the upper house losing any future say on money-related legislation.
Civil servants may rebel
MPs have already passed a law that would force Mr Johnson to seek an extension to the Brexit deadline from the European Union if no deal has been struck by October 19th. There is some doubt as to whether the Government would abide by this or if it could make the request while also asking Brussels not to grant it.
Meanwhile, it has been suggested that, even if the Supreme Court rules that the Queen was misadvised, the Government could simply request another suspension.
Already, the highest court in England has ruled that it has no jurisdiction regarding the suspension request while the highest court in Scotland came to the opposite conclusion and said the request was unlawful.
Now the Supreme Court is to have the final say, although the UK’s highest legal forum has itself been dragged into the Brexit controversy, with suggestions that the judges are opposed to Britain leaving the EU and cannot be considered impartial.
Elsewhere, a former head of the Civil Service has suggested that, in the light of the suspension, officials may be obliged to disobey instructions from Ministers.
This all adds up to an extraordinary state of affairs in a country long famed for its political stability.