John Major has said he will seek the high court’s permission to join a legal fight to prevent the government from suspending parliament before the Brexit deadline, in an unprecedented legal battle that could pit a former prime minister against the incumbent.
And, hours after the news emerged, the shadow attorney general, Shami Chakrabarti, was granted permission to join the case on behalf of the official opposition.
In addition, Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, has said he will seek to intervene in his role as an MP, while the Liberal Democrat leader, Jo Swinson, said she too was seeking to join the case brought by the anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller aimed at preventing Boris Johnson from proroguing parliament from next week until mid-October.
Major, who has been a prominent critic of the government’s Brexit policy, had previously vowed he would mount a legal challenge if Johnson sought to prorogue parliament in order to curtail parliamentary debates or legislative efforts to stop no deal.
“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,” Major said in a statement on Friday.
“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.
“If granted permission to intervene, I intend to seek to assist the court from the perspective of having served in government as a minister and prime minister, and also in parliament for many years as a member of the House of Commons.”
Major is set to be represented by the QC and former minister Edward Garnier, who was solicitor general under David Cameron and is now a Conservative peer.
The former prime minister had made the commitment in July that he would challenge Johnson when rumours began that the latter would use prorogation to force a no-deal Brexit – though under the current terms parliament would now return two weeks before the Brexit deadline.
Major told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in July that he felt strongly about parliamentary tradition, having served in the Commons for two decades.
“I’m not going to stand by and see them disregarded in this fashion,” he said. “It is utterly, utterly and completely the wrong way to proceed.”
Announcing the high court’s decision to grant her permission to intervene on Friday evening, Chakrabarti said: “Parliamentary sovereignty remains the foremost and overarching principle of our constitution.
“Whatever far-right play-book No 10 may be copying from, the abusive shutdown of our legislature won’t wash under United Kingdom constitutional law.”
Watson said he would join Miller’s action and be represented by Mischon de Reya and the QC David Pannick, who are also Miller’s representatives. “I attend to assist the court from the perspective of an active legislator,” he said.
Swinson said the Lib Dems “are doing all we can, both in the courts and in parliament, to prevent both the shutdown of our democracy and a no-deal Brexit”.
The government also faces parallel legal actions by anti-Brexit campaigners in Edinburgh and Belfast.
A Scottish judge temporarily rejected calls for an effective injunction to stop prorogation at a hearing on Friday, after it was claimed during an emergency court hearing on Thursday that Johnson was acting illegally and in breach of the constitution. A full hearing of the case has been fast-tracked to next week.