Government says Johnson will seek Brexit extension. But there are suggestions of trickery.
The UK government has issued a statement to a court hearing claiming that prime minister Boris Johnson will seek an extension to Article 50 if his Brexit plan is rejected by the EU. This comes as European Union sources have reportedly agreed that, if necessary, the EU will bypass Johnson altogether to avoid a no-deal Brexit.
Thanks to the Benn Act, Johnson is legally obliged to seek an extension of Article 50 if no Brexit deal has been agreed with the EU by 19 October.
But the Times has claimed that the EU will accept a request to extend Article 50 from not just the head of government, but also from a representative of the head of state – i.e. civil service head Sir Mark Sedwill or UK ambassador to the EU Sir Tim Barrow.
Yesterday, The Canary reported on a hearing in a Scottish court, instigated by Jo Maugham QC, the Scottish National Party’s Joanna Cherry, and businessman Dale Vince. The hearing is taking place today, with a decision likely to be announced on Monday.
The petitioners are asking the court to determine the consequences should Johnson refuse to ask the EU for an extension of Article 50. Maugham outlined what he thinks is a likely outcome:
We also have proceedings afoot in Scotland that we believe will bind the Prime Minister's hands under, if necessary, pain of imprisonment to comply with the obligations placed on him by Parliament. We do not live in a dictatorship. No one is above the law.
— Jo Maugham QC (@JolyonMaugham) September 26, 2019
The petitioners are also requesting that nobile officium be applied, whereby the court could sign the letter to EU leaders asking for an extension. In effect, the court would bypass Johnson.
Johnson’s apparent U-turn
Perhaps these threats did the trick. Because a government spokesperson reportedly told the Scottish court that the prime minister accepts he “will send a letter in the form set out” by the Benn Act, requesting a delay to 31 January, if parliament rejects his Brexit plan.
However, a Downing Street spokesperson earlier suggested a different tack:
We intend to sabotage any extension. The Surrender Bill [i.e. the Benn Act] only kicks in if an extension is offered. Once people realise our plans, there is a good chance we won’t be offered a delay. Even if we are, we intend to sabotage that too.
In this regard, at least one person tweeted their cynicism about the timing of a visit to London by senior ministers of Hungary’s hard-right government and the possible implications:
Johnson's announcement that he would seek an extension if no deal reached by 19 October comes the day after Hungarian politicians visited Downing Street.
It takes one country to veto an extension…
I don't trust any of them. We're governed by a pack of liars.
— 🇪🇺 For Fox Sake #StopTheCoup (@no2tories) October 4, 2019
European Research Group chair Steve Baker MP has also cast doubt on Johnson’s apparent U-turn:
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 October 31. We will leave.
Johnson’s Brexit plan derided
Meanwhile, Johnson has released details of his much-criticised Brexit plan:
Today I have set out a fair and reasonable compromise for replacing the backstop so we can get Brexit done by 31 October. pic.twitter.com/66WpFGhThU
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) October 2, 2019
Green leader Caroline Lucas summed up why the plan is so bad:
Johnson’s #Brexit proposal
-Reintroduces customs checks
-Resurrects one border N-S & creates another E-W
-Jeopardises Good Friday Agreement & 20 yrs of peace
-Creates a smugglers’ paradise
-Ignores views of majority of people in N Ireland
— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) October 3, 2019
Irish PM Leo Varadkar expanded:
I told the Dáil today why we can’t agree to customs posts or a customs border. #Brexit pic.twitter.com/cqGnxseO8n
— Leo Varadkar (@LeoVaradkar) October 1, 2019
Insult to Ireland
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) supports Johnson’s plan, which requires Northern Ireland Assembly endorsement and ongoing approval every four years.
But according to one commentator, none of the other political parties in the north of Ireland do, and nor do many of its business organisations:
Who in Northern Ireland is supporting Boris Johnson’s Brexit plan?
Sinn Féin ✖️
Chamber of Commerce✖️
Food & Drink Federation✖️
— James Melville (@JamesMelville) October 3, 2019
A spokesperson for Manufacturing NI said:
[The plan] unveiled today means tariffs north to south meaning farms and agri-food will be decimated… Also means two borders requiring renewal after four years, surveillance in border communities without their consent, checks North/South and West/East, no exemptions, no market access and import VAT. 1% of our manufacturing firms are large businesses. The other 99% are SMEs. They have neither the capital or the capacity to handle these new complexities and associated costs.
Even the Police Service Northern Ireland (PSNI) has condemned the plan:
Chief of Police in NI to Johnson: The PSNI will not police customs checkpoints, will not "put police officers on any one of 300 crossings" and will not be "dragged into another type of policing".
This is extraordinary stuff, both in content and tone. ~AAhttps://t.co/B7AOGdK8Ny
— Best For Britain (@BestForBritain) October 3, 2019
Playwright and author Bonnie Greer, meanwhile, succinctly explained why the plan is an insult to the people of Ireland:
If there were any more reasons to love Bonnie Greer, well I’ve just found one:
“Ireland owes this country nothing”
She clearly states what the US legislature have been saying all along. If the GFA is broken, a US/UK trade deal is not viable. #BBCQT pic.twitter.com/DjNZzxrQEL
— Dr. Jennifer Cassidy (@OxfordDiplomat) October 3, 2019
Johnson is now under attack from all directions:
- By a parliament that has passed an act demanding he request an extension to Article 50 if the EU rejects his Brexit plan (very likely).
- By the EU, which could consider a request for an extension to Article 50 from someone other than Johnson.
- And by a court of law that may intervene directly to ensure the request to the EU is made, and to impose sanctions on Johnson should he refuse to co-operate.
But if the government is being disingenuous about an extension to Article 50, there is always the final sanction: a vote of no-confidence in the Commons. And that, in turn, could lead to a caretaker government, a general election, and possibly a new prime minister.
Featured image via screenshot
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