Senior Tories have suggested Boris Johnson could get around laws to force him to delay Brexit even if he does not agree a full exit deal with the EU this week.
The prime minister and EU are racing the clock to get a deal finalised at the European Council summit on Thursday and Friday.
If Johnson fails to get MPs’ approval for a deal, or no deal, by Saturday he has to request a Brexit delay under the terms of the Benn Act.
But with time short, the Times reported that the EU could back a political outline “in principle” deal if there is not enough time to finalise a legal text.
And senior Tories on Monday told HuffPost UK they believe this could be enough for Johnson to fulfil the terms of the Benn Act and get out of requesting a delay.
Under the idea being floated by Tory MPs, the PM could on Saturday ask the Commons to vote on a high level agreement struck with the EU, with legal text to follow later.
While it would not be enough to take Britain out of the EU with a deal, if MPs agree it could buy Johnson breathing space to conclude a deal without having to send the letter requesting a delay, and therefore break his pledge to leave “do or die” by October 31.
As long as it looks like no deal has been averted, it would be odd for Benn to apply
One senior Tory MP said he thought his party and most of the sacked rebels who supported the Benn Act would back a political outline deal as long as the DUP are onside.
At that point, they told HuffPost UK: “As long as it looks like no deal has been averted, it would be odd for Benn to apply.
“If you look at the counterfactual - that somebody asserts that even though an agreement has been reached which needs a few bits of detail putting in, the government is going to be forced to enter into a three-month deferral with possible further delays subject to the EU wanting them - that would seem not to be what was intended by the Benn act.
“I would have thought just common sense says that ought to work.”
One senior backbench Leaver said the Commons arithmetic would give Johnson the whip hand at that point.
“If Boris has a majority for a deal, he has a majority to rescind Benn if necessary.”
Another Brexiteer source however suggested Tory Brexit ‘Spartans’, who demanded legal advice from Attorney General Geoffrey Cox when deciding how to vote on Theresa May’s deal, may be reluctant to back a so-called ‘blind’ Brexit.
“We have been here before,” they said.
“‘Sign this blank cheque here’ is underwhelming.
“I have little faith in that bank.”
It came as Irish deputy PM Simon Coveney said it would be difficult and “complicated” to put the UK’s Brexit plans into legal text by the EU leaders’ summit on Thursday, but suggested some kind of deal may still be possible.
Ireland's foreign minister Simon Coveney hints agreement may not be reachable at the EU summit this week.— Tony Connelly (@tconnellyRTE) October 14, 2019
“What they’re attempting to do here is to write a legal text for an international treaty, that is a Withdrawal Agreement. That means it’s got to be watertight, it’s got to stand up to full scrutiny and legal challenge potientially, and what they’re trying to do is complicated.— Tony Connelly (@tconnellyRTE) October 14, 2019
“It is being left very late in the day but we shouldn’t write off this summit as a potential opportunity for agreement.”— Tony Connelly (@tconnellyRTE) October 14, 2019
Coveney told Irish broadcaster RTE: “It is being left very late in the day but we shouldn’t write off this summit as a potential opportunity for agreement.”
Maddy Thimont Jack, senior researcher at the Institute for Government, suggested plan being floated by Tories may be possible.
“In theory it could work as long as the EU agree that it is a deal under Article 50, and the deal is laid before parliament.
“I think the question is whether the EU think the government is genuinely serious about getting a deal, as opposed to trying to get round the Benn Act.
“The EU may only back an outline agreement if the UK asks for an extension.
“And they would likely want more guarantees that the UK would definitely come back to the table.”