Boris Johnson has promised a Scottish court that he will ask for an extension to Article 50 if the conditions of the Benn Act are satisfied.
The Act aims to force the Prime Minister to ask the European Union for an extension to Article 50 if parliament has not passed a withdrawal agreement by October 19th. It goes into such detail that it even outlines the exact wording of the letter than the PM must send.
Documents produced by the Government and endorsed by the PM also say he will not attempt to frustrate the Benn Act, supposedly stopping Johnson from trying to work around the law: meaning he shouldn’t send two letters, one asking for an extension and one asking for the extension to be denied; and he will not work with foreign countries to veto a request for an extension.
The court has said that, if these promises are breached, it may be possible to prosecute the Prime Minister for being in contempt of court. This begs the question, how can Boris Johnson promise that he will fulfil the obligations of the Benn Act, seemingly requesting an extension, while simultaneously continuing to promise the UK will leave the EU on October 31? Johnson will have to go back on one of his promises – the question is, will he opt for punishment in the form of prosecution, or in the polls?
Perhaps there is another way. He could secure a deal with the EU that is popular enough to pass parliament. His current proposals seem popular enough in parliament that it could possibly pass there, however the EU seem less excited by the proposal. In a press conference today, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Johnson’s offer is not supported by civil society, and does not “carry the support of the Irish people.” He did say he would consider an extension if he was asked for one.
Despite the unlikelihood of a deal, fellow Brexiteer Steve Baker has said, in the space of a single tweet, that the government will obey the law, and will also not extend Article 50, two seemingly incompatible actions. The only other option is that the Government’s lawyers have seen a loophole in the Benn Act that everyone else has missed.
We may well have wait until October 31st to find out which course of action the PM will take.