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Tue. 8:34 a.m.: UK Parliament case opens at Supreme Court as Brexit nears

Protesters hold banners today outside the Supreme Court in London. The Supreme Court is set to decide whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson broke the law when he suspended Parliament on Sept. 9, sending lawmakers home until Oct. 14 — just over two weeks before the U.K. is due to leave the European Union. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

LONDON (AP) — A lawyer urged Britain’s Supreme Court today to rule that Prime Minister Boris Johnson illegally suspended Parliament just weeks before the country is due to leave the European Union for the “improper purpose” of dodging scrutiny of his Brexit plans.

The country’s highest court is sitting to resolve a case that pits the powers of elected lawmakers against those of the executive in a struggle to control the course of Brexit.

Johnson sent lawmakers home on Sept. 9 until Oct. 14, which is barely two weeks before the scheduled Oct. 31 Brexit day.

The prime minister says Britain must leave the EU at the end of next month, with or without a divorce deal. But many lawmakers believe a no-deal Brexit would be economically devastating and socially destabilizing, and are determined to thwart him.

Lawyer David Pannick, who represents one of the campaigners challenging the government, told 11 Supreme Court judges that Johnson had improperly suspended the legislature “to silence Parliament … because he sees Parliament as an obstacle to the furtherance of his political aims.”

The court will hear from government lawyers later in the day.

Johnson says the suspension is routine, and will allow his government to launch its domestic agenda with a new session of Parliament. But the decision outraged many lawmakers, who say it’s designed to prevent them from challenging Johnson’s push for Brexit in October “do or die.”

The suspension sparked legal challenges, to which lower courts have given contradictory rulings. England’s High Court said the suspension was a political rather than legal matter, but Scottish court judges ruled last week that Johnson acted illegally “to avoid democratic scrutiny.”

The Supreme Court is being asked to decide who was right, in a case scheduled to last up to three days. It is considering two questions: Is this a matter for the courts; and, if so, did the government break the law?

Pannick, attorney for transparency campaigner Gina Miller, told court it was a fundamental constitutional principle that “Parliament is sovereign and the executive is accountable to Parliament.”

He said the five-week suspension of Parliament was the longest for decades, and called it “remarkable” that the prime minister had not submitted a witness statement to the court outlining his reasons.

He said that in the absence of a sworn statement, “we say the court should infer that there is no answer” to the allegation that Johnson acted improperly.

The government’s critics have accused Johnson of misleading Queen Elizabeth II, whose formal approval was needed to suspend Parliament.

Pannick stressed that he wasn’t criticizing the 93-year-old monarch.

“Her majesty acted on the advice of her prime minister,” he said.

The government denies misconduct. Its lawyers argued in a written submission that the issue is “intrinsically one of high policy and politics, not law.”

“There are no judicial or manageable standards by reference to which the courts could assess the lawfulness of ministerial decisions,” they argue.

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