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U.K. Parliament Live Updates: Reopening the Brexit Debate

Britain’s Parliament has gathered for a sudden, unexpected return on Wednesday, rejoining the chaotic battle over Brexit after a landmark court ruling that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s suspension of Parliament was unlawful.

The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision on Tuesday left lawmakers, who had not expected to reconvene until mid-October, scrambling to return. Mr. Johnson cut short a trip to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, flying back to face a defiant Parliament, a looming Brexit deadline and a new threat of scandal over government funds directed to a woman he was close to.

Mr. Johnson has vowed to deliver Brexit as scheduled on Oct. 31, even if he has not struck a deal with the European Union on Britain’s withdrawal by then. Parliament has voted, over his strenuous objections, to prohibit leaving without an agreement, which economists say would be economically damaging.

Determined to set the nation’s Brexit course, the prime minister had suspended Parliament for five weeks, until Oct. 14, sharply limiting the ability of dissenting lawmakers to get in his way.

Even before lawmakers returned to London, Mr. Johnson was saying that he might try to send them away again.

He could have called a simple recess last time, but instead the prime minister asked Queen Elizabeth II to “prorogue” Parliament, ending its legislative session and scheduling a new session to begin next month with a speech by the Queen, laying out the government’s agenda.

The first several days of the new session would have been crowded with the formalities of a Queen’s speech and debate on the government’s proposals, leaving little room to address Brexit or anything else.

Proroguing Parliament and convening a new session with a Queen’s speech is commonplace. What is not standard is imposing a break five weeks long and erecting other barriers to Parliament doing its job while a high-stakes dispute is being resolved, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday.

The judges swept aside those obstacles, stating that the previous session was still underway.

But Mr. Johnson said on Tuesday that he still intended to call for a Queen’s speech, meaning that he would end one session of Parliament and start another. But he did not say when.

Any attempt to suspend Parliament again before the Oct. 31 Brexit date would undoubtedly be greeted with fresh outrage, and accusations that the prime minister was flouting the Supreme Court’s decision and improperly forcing the queen into the center of a political fight.

With lawmakers back in Westminster, the opposition is expected to try to subject Mr. Johnson to a form of slow political torture, weakening him and forcing him to break his promise to leave the European Union “do or die” on Oct. 31.

Though the Labour Party insists that it wants a general election, it will not push for one right away. The prime minister faces new calls to resign in the wake of the Supreme Court decision, but the opposition will not try to force a vote to bring him down.

Mr. Johnson has twice tried and failed to persuade Parliament to grant him an election he believes he would win. Labour’s position is that it will permit a general election only after Mr. Johnson has ruled out leaving the European Union without an agreement.

For now, opposition leaders want to leave Mr. Johnson in place — a wounded, enticing target they think they can weaken. In particular, Labour wants to force him to do the one thing he has vowed not to: go to Brussels and ask to to postpone Brexit beyond Oct. 31., at least until January 2020.

When the House of Commons convened on Wednesday, the first item it took up was an opposition attempt to pressure the government to release the legal advice the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, gave to Mr. Johnson about suspending Parliament.

Mr. Cox said he could not reveal anything yet, but that in the coming days, the government would consider “whether the public interest might require a greater disclosure of the advice.”

The opposition is expected to press for the release of other documents that it hopes will embarrass the prime minister.

Labour politicians are also sure to demand explanations from Mr. Johnson about allegations of conflict of interest related to his relationship with an American businesswoman, Jennifer Arcuri.

In Britain, the annual political party conferences are an important forum for proclaiming platforms, rallying the faithful and hashing out differences. But it is not clear when Mr. Johnson’s Conservative Party will get the chance.

The Liberal Democrats have already held their conference. The Labour Party held its gathering this week, and was forced to wrap it up in a hurry on Tuesday so that lawmakers could be in Parliament on Wednesday. Some smaller parties are scheduled to meet later in the fall.

But the Conservative conference was set for next week in Manchester — when, it now seems, Parliament will be in session in London.

Beyond his Brexit troubles, Mr. Johnson is also fending off investigations related to his conduct as London mayor from 2008 to 2016.

The Sunday Times of London reported this weekend that Mr. Johnson helped direct tens of thousands of pounds in government money to Jennifer Arcuri, a fledgling American entrepreneur and close friend whose apartment he often visited during working hours.

The London Assembly, a 25-member body elected to study policies and hold the mayor accountable, demanded this week that Mr. Johnson turn over details of all his contacts with Ms. Arcuri during his time as mayor, and an explanation of whether he had disclosed them while public money was being sent her way.

Len Duvall, the chairman of the Greater London Assembly oversight committee, wrote a letter telling Mr. Johnson that he had two weeks to respond to the questions. The assembly has certain powers to oversee the London mayor, though it is not clear how those apply to a past officeholder, like Mr. Johnson.

Sadiq Khan, the current London mayor, who belongs to the opposition Labour Party, also appointed a lawyer to investigate accusations that Mr. Johnson had hidden a conflict of interest.

Mr. Johnson initially refused to comment on the allegations, but later said he had acted with “complete propriety.”

The only woman who has ever served as Britain’s highest-ranking judge delivered the bombshell ruling against Mr. Johnson, and many Britons took to social media to call it the revenge of the “girly swot.”

Since becoming Prime Minister in July, Mr. Johnson has come under criticism for using sexist language against his critics, like referring to Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, as “a great big girl’s blouse” — slang for a coward.

In Britain, “swot” is an insulting term for a student who works too hard. In a recent memo, Mr. Johnson called a former prime minister, David Cameron, “a girly swot” — a double-barreled schoolboy taunt with an edge of chauvinism.

“If you want to insult a woman, call her a prostitute. If you want to insult a man, call him a woman,” said Amanda Montell, the author of “Wordslut: A Feminist guide to taking back the English language.”

Three women played central parts in Mr. Johnson’s legal setback: Lady Hale, the president of the Supreme Court, who announced the ruling; and the principal plaintiffs in the two cases against the prime minister that the court decided — Gina Miller, a businesswoman and activist, and Joanna Cherry, a member of Parliament.

Social media users were quick to note the role of women and link it to Mr. Johnson’s own words.

“Girly Swot Power” and “Never underestimate the girly swot,” people wrote, above pictures of the women.

“I’m a Girly Swot too and I wanted to signal my admiration and respect for Lady Hale,” Trudy Harpham, a professor at London South Bank University, wrote on Twitter. “Hope she becomes a role model for many young women/girls.”

Mr. Johnson, in his inaugural address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Tuesday, outlined the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology. But while his speech offered moments of hope, he also managed to paint a frightening picture of a dystopian future, rattling off a list of potential technological horrors.

“You may keep secrets from your friends, from your parents, your children, your doctor — even your personal trainer — but it takes real effort to conceal your thoughts from Google,” he said. “And if that is true today, in future there may be nowhere to hide.”

Mr. Johnson went on to describe a world where “your mattress will monitor your nightmares; your fridge will beep for more cheese.”

He then reflected on the potential for both positive developments and overreach as artificial intelligence becomes ubiquitous.

“A.I. — what will it mean? Helpful robots washing and caring for an aging population?” he asked. “Or pink-eyed terminators sent back from the future to cull the human race?”

His speech was filled with images of a harrowing future, with synthetic biology that delivers “terrifying limbless chickens to our tables” and nanotechnology that could “leave tiny robots to replicate in the crevices of our cells.”

The world must, he said, “ensure that emerging technologies are designed from the outset for freedom, openness and pluralism, with the right safeguards in place to protect our peoples.”

The speech came late on Tuesday, shortly before Mr. Johnson headed back home for what was sure to be a contentious return to Parliament.

Richard Pérez-Peña, Benjamin Mueller, Stephen Castle, Megan Specia and Ceylan Yeginsu contributed reporting.

Source: NYT > World News

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