WATCH: Cabinet minister reopens Tory row by suggesting judges are biased on Brexit
Cabinet minister Kwasi Kwarteng has risked reigniting a major Conservative row after he suggested judges may be biased over Brexit.
He said "many people" believed the courts were not impartial when handing down rulings on the issue - although he insisted he did not think that himself.
Mr Kwarteng's comments came just hours after Downing Street had been forced to insist it had "absolute respect for the independence of the judiciary".
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland was among the senior Conservative figures who hit out after Downing Street sources appeared to question the impartiality of the Court of Session in Edinburgh after it said Boris Johnson's decision to prorogue Parliament was illegal and designed to stop MPs debating Brexit.
Mr Buckland said he had "total confidence" in the judiciary, while his predecessor as Justice Secretary, David Gauke, warned: "It is neither responsible nor acceptable for 'sources in No 10' to accuse judges of political bias."
However, business minister Mr Kwarteng on Wednesday night criticised judges for "getting involved" in politics.
"This Brexit process has brought the courts, has brought judges, has brought lawyers into the political process to a far greater extent than any of us have ever seen," he told the BBC’s Andrew Neil Show.
He added: "We've had people contesting judgements, people contesting the right of the Prime Minister, or the circumstances under which he pushes a prorogation. None of us have ever seen anything like this before.
"And what I would say is the more the courts get involved in politics, that is a detriment not only to politics but also to the courts.
"Because, many people are saying – I’m not saying this – but, many people … are saying that the judges are biased. The judges are getting involved in politics.
"I’m just saying what people are saying. That’s what people are saying."
Challenged on the claim, Mr Kwarteng added: "I think that they are impartial, but I’m saying that many people, many Leave voters, many people up and down the country, are beginning to question the partiality of the judges. That’s just a fact."
That view was also echoed by Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, who told the same show that the courts were part of a Remain-supporting "establishment".
"Remain almost to the last man and woman, that is where we are," he said.
"We see this right through government, right through the judiciary."
Mr Kwarteng's comments drew an immediate rebuke from former Conservative Cabinet minister David Lidington, who said: "I've seen no evidence of the courts getting involved in politics but rather English & Scottish courts grappling with important legal/constitutional questions referred to them by UK citizens - and coming to different reasoned judgements."
The row came after the Court of Session found that Mr Johnson had misled the Queen as to the real reasons behind the suspension of Parliament - thereby making it illegal.
In their damning ruling, Lords Carloway, Brodie and Drummond Young said Mr Johnson's decision was an "egregious case of a clear failure to comply with generally accepted standards of behaviour".
The Government have announced they will appeal the ruling at the UK's Supreme Court next Tuesday.
The ruling came after the separate High Court in London rejected a legal challenge to the move launched by anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller, saying the matter was "not capable of being determined by the courts".