Court petitioners wary of Johnson’s trustworthiness around Benn Act
EU halts technical discussions on Brexit details with David Frost over weekend
Jolyon Maugham QC: “Our concern has always been that this is not a prime minister who can be trusted.” Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA
Boris Johnson will write a letter asking the EU to delay Brexit by three months if no deal is agreed by October 19th, according to government papers submitted to a Scottish court. The documents also say the government will not seek to “frustrate” the Benn Act, which obliges the prime minister to seek an extension rather than leave the EU without a deal on October 31st.
The government’s commitment came in response to an action by campaigners including SNP MP Joanna Cherry and Jolyon Maugham QC asking the court to make orders telling the prime minister what he has to do.
“Our concern has always been that this is not a prime minister who can be trusted. He is making contradictory statements and we do not trust that he will do what he has said to the court he will do. So we want to make the court to make orders obliging him to do it, and if he doesn’t then do it then he will face personal criminal consequences,” Mr Maugham said.
Downing Street sources suggested that, although the government would obey the law, it could still avoid delaying Brexit by other means. Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage accused Mr Johnson of telling parliament one thing and the court another but Conservative Brexiteer Steve Baker said the court papers meant nothing.
‘Dead in a ditch’
“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 31st. We will leave,” Mr Baker said.
Here are the paragraphs Aidan O'Neill QC, Counsel for @DaleVince, @joannaccherry and myself, has just read out. They are from the written case of the Prime Minister and if the Prime Minister promises the court he will comply we need take no further time. Why will he not? pic.twitter.com/YnYLJ0iMhn— Jo Maugham QC (@JolyonMaugham) October 4, 2019
Aidan O’Neill QC, representing the petitioners in the Scottish court, pointed to the prime minister’s statement that he would prefer to be “dead in a ditch” than to request an extension as contradicting what the government said in court documents.
“We can’t trust this government, in light of statements it has made, that it will comply with the law,” he said.
The EU declined on Friday to continue the technical discussions on Brexit involving Mr Johnson’s chief negotiator David Frost over the weekend. A European Commission source said the talks would continue on Monday and that the Brexit task force had made clear it still required “huge” clarifications before the full negotiating process could get under way.
“We have completed discussions with the UK for today. We gave our initial reaction to the UK’s proposals and asked many questions on the legal text,” a spokeswoman said.
“We will meet again on Monday to give the UK another opportunity to present its proposals in detail.”
The spokeswoman added that the proposals did not provide a basis for concluding an agreement.
“The UK often asks for meetings to keep the process going; we agree we should leave no stone unturned. But there is nothing useful that could be done this weekend,” an EU official said.
Earlier, a commission official warned that if the UK wanted an agreement discussed by the EU summit, which starts on October 17th, then an agreement needed to be ready for distribution to capitals by next Friday.