Former prime minister Sir John Major has announced he intends to join a legal bid to stop Boris Johnson from suspending parliament to get a no-deal Brexit.
The move, unprecedented by any ex-PM, will see him ally with businesswoman Gina Miller in seeking to use the High Court to overturn the government’s decision to ‘prorogue’, or shut down, the House of Commons for four weeks.
Miller, who successfully used the courts to force parliament to pass legislation to trigger the Article 50 Brexit process, has applied for judicial review of Johnson’s prorogation move.
The case will now be heard in London next Thursday - just four days before parliament is set to prorogue on Monday September 9.
Labour deputy leader Tom Watson revealed that he too would be party to the legal challenge.
“I will be joining the judicial review launched in the High Court by Gina Miller and supported by John Major as a claimant,” Watson said.
“The rights and freedoms of our citizens have been vandalised. This is an abuse of power that can and should be stopped.”
Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson later said her name would also be on the court case.
Sir John’s announcement came minutes just before a Scottish court refused a bid by more than 70 MPs to grant an emergency injunction to stymie No.10′s plans.
The Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled however that a full hearing should go ahead next Tuesday.
Major has long warned that a no-deal Brexit would put at risk not just the UK economy but also peace in Northern Ireland because of the threat of the reintroduction of border controls with the Republic of Ireland.
In a statement, Major said: “I promised that, if the Prime Minister prorogued parliament in order to prevent members from opposing his Brexit plans, I would seek judicial review of his action.
“In view of the imminence of the prorogation – and to avoid duplication of effort, and taking up the Court’s time through repetition – I intend to seek the Court’s permission to intervene in the claim already initiated by Gina Miller, rather than to commence separate proceedings.”
Crucially, Major - who will be represented by former MP and solicitor general Edward Garnier - stressed his unique perspective as a former PM.
“If granted permission to intervene, I intend to seek to assist the Court from the perspective of having served in covernment as a minister and prime minister, and also in parliament for many years as a member of the House of Commons.”
Earlier this week, Major made clear he didn’t believe Johnson’s claims that his new Queen’s Speech had nothing to do with running down the clock to a no-deal exit on October 31.
“I have no doubt that the prime minister’s motive in seeking prorogation is to bypass a sovereign parliament that opposes his policy,” he said.
And in June, the former PM was even more scathing, declaring: “I cannot imagine Mr Disraeli, Mr Gladstone, Mr Churchill or Mrs Thatcher even in their most difficult moments saying let us put parliament aside while I carry through this difficult policy that a part of my party disagrees with.”
He has however come under attack from some Conservatives, given that he prorogued parliament as PM in 1997 before a general election, allegedly in order to prevent a debate on the cash-for-questions affair.
This week Miller said that it was right for the High Court to determine the issue.
“Because in our present constitution sovereignty belongs to Parliament, it is the view of myself and my legal team that the advice to Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament with the intention of effectively reducing Parliament’s ability to legislate at this crucial time is unlawful.”