The ruling puts Parliament back in session almost three weeks earlier than expected, and has consequences for Brexit.
The British Supreme Court on Tuesday demolished Prime Minister Boris Johnson's case for sending lawmakers home during the run-up to the October 31 Brexit deadline, setting the stage for Parliament to return almost three weeks earlier than expected.
It was a devastating ruling for the government, but the consequences for Johnson's deeply troubled plans for leaving the European Union are not yet clear.
Britain, already mired in uncertainty about the Brexit process, was plunged into fresh confusion about what will happen when lawmakers return to their seats.
How did we get here?
Johnson announced in late August that he would suspend, or prorogue, Parliament for five weeks at the height of the Brexit crisis — a move that was condemned as an anti-democratic outrage, both by the opposition and by some lawmakers in his own Conservative Party.
The government said it needed time to prepare for a fresh legislative session, starting with a speech from Queen Elizabeth II on October 14, but lawmakers suspected the true motive was to keep them from interfering with Johnson's plan to complete Brexit by October 31, with or without a deal outlining future relations with Brussels.
Parliament was eventually suspended September 10, but the legal contests had already begun.
Lawmakers agitated for an early return to Parliament, fearing that if the suspension were allowed to stand there would be little to stop Johnson from sending lawmakers home a second time to achieve his hard-line Brexit plans.
A Scottish court said Johnson had acted unlawfully, while an English court declined to intervene, sending the dispute to the Supreme Court.
In a landmark decision Tuesday, the high court cleared the way for lawmakers to get back to work nearly three weeks before Johnson had wanted them to reconvene.
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When and how will Parliament reconvene?
After the ruling, John Bercow, speaker of the House of Commons, and Lord Norman Fowler, speaker of the House of Lords, wasted no time in arranging for Parliament to resume its business Wednesday.
Speaking to reporters shortly after the court ruling was announced, Bercow said that lawmakers would return to the Commons at 11:30am Wednesday. Lord Fowler said on Twitter that the Lords would resume at 3pm.
Bercow, who has been a vocal opponent of Johnson's decision to suspend Parliament, said he welcomed the court's "unambiguous decision" and noted that he had been in touch with party leaders to inform them that business would resume.
Johnson planned to hurry back to London from New York, where he has been attending the United Nations General Assembly, and officials said he would fly back Tuesday night, rather than Wednesday morning.
Bercow said Parliament would skip a session of prime minister's questions that is usually held Wednesdays but added, "There will be full scope for urgent questions for ministerial statements and for applications for emergency debates."
Had the suspension been upheld, it would have meant that Parliament's return in October would have been a new legislative session and that any leftover bills would die. Johnson scheduled a queen's speech October 14 to lay out the government's agenda for the new session, which then would have been subject to days of debate, leaving even less time for Brexit.
Instead, the Supreme Court ruling means the suspension never happened, so the old legislative session is still underway, and bills that were on the table can continue through the approval process. The queen's speech and the formal introduction of the government's agenda are on hold.
Johnson could attempt once again to prorogue Parliament, schedule a queen's speech and start a new parliamentary session, said Charles Brasted, a partner and head of the public law and policy practice at the firm Hogan Lovells.
"But he would have to give cogent and lawful reasons for doing so," Brasted said, "and it is highly unlikely that it could be of anything like the length previously intended."
Speaking to reporters in New York, Johnson said there was a "good case for getting on with the queen's speech anyway, and we will do that," but it was not clear if he meant before or after October 31.
What does this mean for Boris Johnson?
The ruling most likely means the prime minister will field questions from angry and newly empowered opposition lawmakers much sooner than he would have liked.
It is not clear how lawmakers might use that time for Brexit-related matters. They have already passed a law barring the government from withdrawing from the European Union on October 31 without a deal governing future relations, and Johnson still has a few weeks to try to hammer out a deal.
There were also no signs that the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, will try to force Johnson out of office through a vote of no confidence any time soon. Corbyn said Tuesday that there should not be a general election until Brexit had been delayed, preventing the country from crashing out of the EU during an election campaign.
But Labour lawmakers signalled that they would try to shore up the law stopping a no-deal Brexit and close any loopholes that Johnson might use to pull Britain out of the bloc anyway. They also said they would try to force the government to publish its legal basis for suspending Parliament in the first place.
Parliament has already taken an active role in exposing the repercussions of an abrupt, cliff-edge split from the EU, which economists say could do serious harm to Britain. Back in session, lawmakers suggested they would resume that effort, and they may also press the prime minister for an account of how negotiations for a new deal are going (slowly, most observers say).
In addition, a new scandal hanging over the prime minister has supplied opposition lawmakers with plenty of ammunition for fresh assaults: The Times of London reported that, when Johnson was mayor of London, his office had directed tens of thousands of pounds in government money to a young entrepreneur who was a close friend.
Aren't party conferences underway?
Yes. The prime minister originally justified the five-week shutdown by saying that lawmakers would be away for part of that time anyway, in order to attend annual conferences for grassroots party members.
That political calendar clashes with Parliament's return to business Wednesday.
The Labour conference is underway this week in Brighton, a coastal English city south of London. Corbyn was set to give his big speech at the Labour gathering Wednesday but moved it up to Tuesday after the Supreme Court ruled.
The Conservative meeting is scheduled for next week in Manchester, in northern England.
Labour lawmakers are unlikely to object to cutting their conference short and returning to Parliament. The conference was already mired in heated disputes over the party's Brexit plans and returning to Parliament gives them a chance to highlight Johnson's mounting troubles.
Conservative lawmakers will not be as pleased about the interruption. The conference meetings are a chance to hammer out policy and showcase a party's plans, and that is all the more important now, with an early election expected to be months or perhaps even weeks away.
Written by: Benjamin Mueller and Megan Specia
Photographs by: Andrew Testa
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