Johnson will write to EU requesting article 50 extension, court told
The UK government has promised a court that Boris Johnson will send a letter to the EU seeking an extension to article 50 as required by the Benn act.
The undertaking appears to contradict the prime minister’s statements the UK will leave the EU on 31 October regardless and unattributed claims from Downing Street that he will find a way to sidestep the act.
The pledge has been given in legal papers submitted to the court of session in Edinburgh after anti-Brexit campaigners began legal action to force Johnson to uphold the act’s requirements.
The European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act states that if Westminster does not agree to a Brexit deal by 19 October, the prime minister has to write to the EU seeking an extension to article 50 until 31 January.
The UK government has refused to release copies of its submissions in this case to the media despite repeated requests by the Guardian, the BBC and other news organisation.
Key excerpts of its pledge were read out instead by Aidan O’Neill QC, the lawyer for Dale Vince, the green energy millionaire, SNP MP Joanna Cherry QC, and the lawyer and anti-Brexit campaigner Jolyon Maugham QC.
Maugham then tweeted extracts of the document.
It states the prime minister accepts “he is subject to the public law principle that he cannot frustrate its purpose or the purpose of its provisions. Thus he cannot act so as to prevent the letter requesting the specified extension in the act from being sent.”
O’Neill told Lord Pentland, the judge hearing the case, that Johnson had repeatedly contradicted that position, including in the Commons on Wednesday, by insisting the UK would leave on 31 October come what may.
As a result, O’Neill said, the court still needed to issue legally binding orders to force Johnson to comply with the Benn act in an interdict, or injunction. If the prime minister refused to do so, O’Neill could return to court to ask for Johnson to be fined or jailed, he added. No 10 declined to comment.
Johnson has insisted repeatedly that he will “get Brexit done” by 31 October.
In his party conference speech on Wednesday, he said: “What leavers want, what remainers want, what the whole world wants is to be calmly and sensibly done with the subject, and to move on: and that is why we are coming out of the EU on 31 October, come what may”.
As he laid out his Brexit proposals to MPs on Thursday, he told them: “We will be leaving on 31 October, deal or no deal.”
However, some cabinet ministers in Manchester repeatedly hinted that Downing Street believes it can circumvent the Benn act in some way, so that Brexit would still go ahead on deadline.
Steve Baker, chair of the European Research Group, appeared to suggest on Friday that he had been reassured the government still intended to leave on 31 October, come what may. “All this means is that government will obey the law,” he wrote.
Severin Carrell y Heather Stewart