Boris Johnson will ask for an extension to Article 50 if he cannot reach a Brexit deal by October 19, government documents have revealed today.
Documents submitted to Scotland’s highest civil court contradict the Prime Minister’s public declarations that he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than further delay the UK’s departure from the EU.
In the Scottish court of session, Aidan O’Neill QC read out material from the written case of the Prime Minister, saying that he would write a letter asking for an extension if a deal hasn’t been reached by October 19.
Downing Street refused to comment after the documents were read out during the case.
The legal action – led by businessman Vince Dale, SNP MP Joanna Cherry QC and Jolyon Maugham QC - is seeking clarification that Mr Johnson will follow the Benn Bill - dubbed by him the ‘Surrender Bill’ - which would make a no-deal Brexit illegal.
According to the law, if a deal hasn’t been done by October 19, Mr Johnson will have to ask for a three-month extension.
He has publicly suggested that he wouldn’t do that, but the documents suggest that Mr Johnson would indeed follow the letter of the law and ask for more time.
The revelation provokes yet more question marks over whether Mr Johnson will do what he says he will.
Mr Maugham told Sky News: “What we learned today is that the Prime Minister has promised the court, in his own name, that he will ask for an extension under the Benn Act if the conditions are satisfied, in other words if Parliament has not before October 19 agreed a withdrawal agreement.
“He’s also promised the court that he will not frustrate the Benn Act by which is meant that he will not send two letters, one saying ‘can I have an extension’, the other saying ‘please don’t give me one’, he won’t collude with foreign governments to attempt to persuade those foreign governments to veto an extension.”
Mr O’Neill said: “We can’t trust this Government, in light of statements it has made, that it will comply with the law.”
The trio behind the court action – businessman Vince Dale, SNP MP Joanna Cherry QC and Jolyon Maugham QC – are seeking an order to ensure Mr Johnson requests an extension if he refuses to abide by the terms of the Benn Act.
But he said the Prime Minister’s public comments about committing to the October 31 date meant he was playing “a very odd game”.
“It’s a very difficult game to understand because I think he told the House of Commons yesterday that we would leave come what may on October 31, and I do not understand how that statement can be reconciled with the promises that he’s made to the court today.
“There is no way to square that circle. And he is going to have to come clean either to Parliament or the court.”
Will Government get around the Benn Act?
Eurosceptic MP Steve Baker – the self-styled “Brexit hardman” – insisted that the Prime Minister would still meet the October 31 date.
Mr Baker, leader of the European Research Group of Brexiteer Tories, told the PA news agency: “A source has confirmed that this just means the Government will obey the law but the source confirmed we will leave on October 31.
“It’s not really a development in the position.”
A source confirms all this means is that Government will obey the law.
It does not mean we will extend.
It does not mean we will stay in the EU beyond Oct 31.
We will leave. https://t.co/LuVt45rMAr
— Steve Baker MP (@SteveBakerHW) October 4, 2019
Asked whether that means leaving without a new Withdrawal Agreement in place, he said: “We’re going to leave with or without a deal come what may.”
But Mr Baker said he did not know what the Government’s plan was to get around the Benn Act if necessary.
‘Better than no deal’
Reacting to the reporting government documents, the Irish premier said on Friday Ireland would likely agree to a request by the UK for a Brexit extension.
Speaking in Denmark, moments after court documents revealed the UK Prime Minister will ask for a delay if he fails to get a deal with Brussels for the UK’s departure from the EU, Leo Varadkar said if Boris Johnson submits a request for an extension, he would agree.
“I’ve always said that Brexit doesn’t end with the UK leaving, it’s just the next phase of negotiations, but if the UK were to request and extension, we would consider it, most EU countries would only consider it for good reason, but an extension would be better than no deal,” he said.