Brexit: Lady Hale wishes she never wore spider brooch during Supreme Court ruling on suspension of Parliament

Lady Hale hit headlines for wearing a spider brooch during the Supreme Court ruling on Boris Johnson's prorogation of Parliament.
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Lady Brenda Hale, the Supreme Court judge who ruled Boris Johnson’s Brexit suspension of Parliament as unlawful, has said she wishes she never wore her famous spider brooch.

The former judge, who was president of the Supreme Court from 2017 to 2020, became a household name after ruling in 2019. Shortly after becoming Prime Minister, Johnson had prorogued Parliament in an effort to push through Brexit as quickly as possible.

However, the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, unanimously ruled that this was unlawful as it stopped MPs properly scrutinising the UK’s exit from the European Union. Lady Hale gave the ruling with a spider brooch on her black dress - and this received instant notoriety and acclaim on social media and in the papers.

The New York Times led with the story “Big Spider Love: The Brooch That Ate Brexit”, while a t-shirt company immediately started flogging Lady Hale spider brooch tops for Halloween. Twitter went wild with speculation that the pin was a flesh-eating camel spider, which some thought might have been a message to Johnson.

Lady Hale wearing the spider brooch during the Supreme Court ruling in 2019. Credit: PALady Hale wearing the spider brooch during the Supreme Court ruling in 2019. Credit: PA
Lady Hale wearing the spider brooch during the Supreme Court ruling in 2019. Credit: PA

However now Lady Hale has revealed that she actually wore the brooch by chance, and if she had known the intense focus it would have received she would have worn a different pin. Lady Hale said: “The whole spider brooch thing was a surprise, because I had been wearing brooches on the garments I wear in court ever since the family division … a bit of individuality. 

“It never occurred to me that there would be such a focus on the particular brooch I was wearing. If I had thought that people would read things into it I would have chosen a dragonfly, which I think would have been much more difficult to read things into than a spider brooch. Had I known the Who had a song called ‘Boris the Spider’ … I certainly would not have worn the spider.”

She also told The Judges: Power, Politics and the People podcast that it was a “nerve-wracking” day when she ruled that Johnson’s suspension was unlawful. She said: “Everybody listened to the summary of the judgement, which I delivered in complete silence - apart from when I said: ‘this is the unanimous decision of us all.’ And there was an audible gasp.”

And despite the fact that she became something of a hero for Remain supporters, Lady Hale said that with the decision “politics didn’t come into it”. “We were not in the slightest bit concerned whether Brexit would happen or not, we were concerned with the respective roles of government and Parliament in the machinery of bringing Brexit about,” she explained.

During the Covid pandemic, Boris Johnson struggled to understand graphs and scientific data (Picture: Leon Neal/WPA pool /Getty Images)During the Covid pandemic, Boris Johnson struggled to understand graphs and scientific data (Picture: Leon Neal/WPA pool /Getty Images)
During the Covid pandemic, Boris Johnson struggled to understand graphs and scientific data (Picture: Leon Neal/WPA pool /Getty Images)

She revealed that she did not have to put pressure on her fellow justices to ensure that the decision was unanimous. “Everyone was working together. We all wanted to get the right result,” she said.

“We were all brought up to believe in the sovereignty of Parliament as the fundamental principle of our constitution, not in the sovereignty of the Prime Minister, not in the sovereignty of the government, but in the sovereignty of Parliament,” she explained.

In the interview, Lady Hale also expressed concerns that politicians do not understand their duty to maintain a working justice system. It comes after the Supreme Court recently ruled Rishi Sunak’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing and resettlement was unlawful.

“It is a public service, which is one of the first duties of government, to have a justice system which functions,” Lady Hale said. When asked if politicians understand that, she replied: “I think they probably don’t."

Ralph Blackburn is NationalWorld’s politics editor based in Westminster, where he gets special access to Parliament, MPs and government briefings. If you liked this article you can follow Ralph on X (Twitter) here and sign up to his free weekly newsletter Politics Uncovered, which brings you the latest analysis and gossip from Westminster every Sunday morning.

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