Civil liberties group launches Brexit legal bid against Boris Johnson

Human rights group Liberty launches legal bid to make sure Boris Johnson complies with anti-No Deal law as Remainers slam Downing Street over ‘plans to sabotage Brexit delay’

  • Liberty campaign group seeks judicial review to make sure PM follows Brexit law 
  • Anti-No Deal Bill now in law and will force PM to seek a three month Brexit delay
  • But Boris Johnson repeatedly said he will not break his ‘do or die’ Brexit pledge 
  • Downing Street now war-gaming how to get round the extension demand
  • One plan being looked at is to send a letter alongside Article 50 extension bid
  • But legal experts said today that the plan would almost certainly be illegal 

A leading civil liberties organisation today launched legal proceedings against Boris Johnson in a bid to ensure the Prime Minister complies with an anti-No Deal Brexit law.

Mr Johnson has repeatedly said he will not ask the EU for a Brexit delay even though a rebel piece of legislation which became law today will require him to do so if he is unable to strike a deal with the bloc in the run up to October 31.  

There is growing speculation in Westminster that Mr Johnson could try to defy the law in order to prevent him having to break his ‘do or die’ pledge to deliver Brexit with or without a deal. 

Downing Street again insisted today that the PM will not ask for an extension in any circumstances and Liberty has responded by pursuing a judicial review to make sure the premier ‘upholds his obligations’. 

The legal push came amid rising Remainer fury over claims that Mr Johnson could try to ‘sabotage’ the anti-No Deal law.  

Boris Johnson and his aides, including Dominic Cummings, have reportedly been war-gaming how to get round anti-No Deal legislation passed by MPs

Mr Johnson, pictured in Downing Street today, has repeatedly said he will not ask the EU for a Brexit delay

John Bercow says he will quit by October 31

Speaker John Bercow delivered a stinging parting shot at Boris Johnson and Brexiteers today after he dramatically announced he is quitting by October 31.

Mr Bercow effectively jumped before he was pushed after the Tories responded to his handling of Remainer rebel legislation by declaring they would try to oust him at the looming election.

Watched by wife Sally from the public gallery and to cheers and laughter from Labour MPs, Mr Bercow said the least disruptive thing would be for him to quit on October 31 – the current deadline for Brexit.

In a series of stinging shots at Mr Johnson, a tearful Mr Bercow said he made ‘no apology’ for being the ‘backbenchers’ backstop’ while in the chair as he warned against the ‘degrading’ of Parliament. 

The legislation requires the PM to send Brussels a letter asking for a delay if no accord is struck before Halloween. 

But today it emerged that aides are considering a plan which would see Mr Johnson send the letter but then send another one demanding the bloc ignore the first. 

However, the prospect of Downing Street moving to scupper an extension in such a way sparked widespread anger among opposition MPs while legal experts said such a course of action would break the law.   

Liberty announced today that it had brought a judicial review to make sure Mr Johnson complies with the anti-No Deal legislation. 

The group has called on the PM to make a statement within two days saying he will abide by the letter of the law. 

If he does so, Liberty will then ‘immediately withdraw its application to bring legal action’.

Martha Spurrier, director of Liberty, said she hoped the legal challenge would ultimately prove to be ‘unnecessary’. 

‘However, we would be failing in our duty if we sit back when doubts about the execution of the law swirl over Westminster,’ she said. 

‘It is our fierce independence which makes this a case that Liberty must lead. At a time when public faith in parliamentary process is so low, it is essential that party politics are removed from this matter. 

‘People must know that this case is not fought on party lines or that it is anything to do with Brexit. This case is about ensuring that the government – whoever it is, or whatever its intention – acts within the law.’

The question of whether the government will comply with the legislation which was forced upon it by Remain-backing MPs has dominated Westminster over the last week. 

Nigel Farage blasts Boris Johnson saying ‘the Boris bravado has disappeared’ 

In a message to the embattled Prime Minister on GMB today Mr Farage said: ‘Let’s work together, let’s get Brexit done’

Nigel Farage mocked Boris Johnson for losing his ‘bravado’ over Brexit today after the Prime Minister said a No Deal departure would be a ‘failure of statecraft’.

The Brexit Party leader hammered the PM after his comments during a visit to Dublin to see Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Mr Farage had earlier held out an olive brand to Mr Johnson, saying ‘Let’s work together, let’s get Brexit done.’

But after the PM’s words, he lashed out, saying: ‘The Boris bravado has disappeared in Dublin, saying No Deal would be a ”failure of statecraft”. 

‘He is now going all out for Mrs May’s ‘deal’, with Northern Ireland to be hived off from the rest of the UK. A clean break Brexit is the only way forward.’ 

It raises questions over whether an electoral pact between the two parties could succeed. 

Mr Johnson has said he will not ask for an extension and has stuck firmly to his ‘do or die’ pledge. The PM said he would rather be ‘dead in a ditch’ than postpone Brexit. 

Meanwhile, Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, said yesterday that the government intended to ‘test to the limit’ the legislation passed by Parliament. 

Those remarks have prompted renewed speculation that the government could try to skirt, or even break, the law when it comes to the crunch and that Brexit could therefore end up in front of the Supreme Court.

Downing Street is now scrambling to figure out how Mr Johnson can keep his Brexit promise with the two letters plan reportedly under consideration. 

The strategy was slammed this morning by former Supreme Court justice Lord Sumption who said it would not be legal to send two contradictory letters to the EU. 

‘No, of course it wouldn’t,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

‘Not only has he got to send the letter, he’s got to apply for an extension.

‘To send the letter and then try to neutralise it seems to me, plainly, a breach of the Act.

‘What you’ve got to realise is the courts are not very fond of loopholes.’

Lord Falconer, a Labour former justice secretary, reached the same conclusion.

The Labour peer tweeted: ‘Statutory Purpose of request letter is to get extension. To seek to destroy statutory purpose is to break law.’

Mr Johnson is facing growing pressure from Tory Brexiteers to stick to his commitment not to delay the UK’s departure from the EU.  

Dominic Cummings (pictured left outside his London home last week) has been a key figure in putting together Mr Johnson’s Brexit strategy. Lord Sumption (right) dismissed the idea that the PM could write two letter to the EU

Some suggested on a private WhatsApp group that he should simply ignore the legislation.

Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen told MailOnline today that becoming a ‘martyr to democracy’ could be Mr Johnson’s only option. 

‘Unfortunately democracy has an insatiable appetite for martyrs. He could end up being one of those – collateral damage,’ he said. 

However, in the face of Cabinet resignation threats the PM has signalled to ministers he will not openly breach the legislation.

At a joint press conference with Leo Varadkar in Dublin this morning, Mr Johnson conceded that No Deal would be a bad outcome for both sides, saying it would amount to a ‘failure of statecraft’ and politicians would be ‘responsible’. 

But he again insisted that the UK would be leaving the EU by October 31 come what may, saying failure to do so would cause ‘permanent damage’ to democracy. 

He said he was ‘undaunted’ by mounting opposition to his stance in Parliament and there had to be a ‘way out’ of the backstop for the UK. 

He also claimed there was the ‘ideal’ amount of time to get an agreement – seemingly setting a new deadline of October 18, the day before Remainer rebel legislation is due to force an extension, to get a package in place.

However, Mr Varadkar today swiped that the UK has no ‘realistic’ plan for replacing the insurance policy for the Irish border. ‘No backstop is No Deal,’ he warned.

Mr Varadkar said that there was no such thing as a ‘clean break’ Brexit and issues will not end if the PM manages to force the UK out at the end of October.

He said Mr Johnson faced a ‘Herculean’ task to get a comprehensive trade deal, and it would be worse if there was no divorce package.    

Mr Johnson hunkered down in Chevening, the Foreign Secretary’s country residence, yesterday with close aides including Dominic Cummings as they war-gamed the days ahead.

One plan under consideration to prevent the three month extension is for the Prime Minister to send an additional letter alongside the legally required request to extend Article 50, setting out the government’s position that they don’t want a delay and want Britain to leave on October 31.

A source told The Telegraph: ‘There is a prescribed letter that has to be sent…Does that stop the Prime Minister sending other documents to the EU? I don’t think it does.

‘A political explainer perhaps, as to where the Government’s policy is. It has to make clear that the Government is asking for an extension, but let’s not forget what the next step is.

‘Once that is done, the Europeans are going to ask: ‘Why? What is the reason? [What] if the government said: ‘We don’t have any reasons for an extension.

‘There is a clear path now: the Europeans need to refuse an extension.’ 

France has already suggested it could veto lengthening the talks, with French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, telling reporters: ‘We are not going to do this (extend the deadline) every three months.’  

What is happening on Brexit crisis today? 

Now: House of Commons sits for what is expected to be the last time until October 14. 

3.30pm: Application from Remainer rebels for emergency debates.  

4pm: No Deal minister Michael Gove gives evidence to Lords EU scrutiny committee. 

c10pm: MPs vote on fresh bid from the PM to stage an early general election.

Midnight: House is expected to prorogue until after party conferences. 

Should Mr Johnson refuse to comply with the law and ask the EU for an extension at a crunch meeting on October 17/18 then MPs would almost certainly try and enforce the legislation by taking the PM to court, setting up a major constitutional clash. 

Downing Street sources have said they will look to ‘sabotage’ the extension. 

Over the weekend, a former director of public prosecutions warned Mr Johnson would be jailed for contempt of court if he refused to comply with the law.

In a sign of concerns within Cabinet, Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland QC yesterday revealed he had challenged Mr Johnson personally over the issue.

Dismissing speculation he could quit as ‘wide of the mark’, Mr Buckland said he would continue to serve in his Cabinet.

But he revealed he had spoken to Mr Johnson over the weekend ‘regarding the importance of the Rule of Law, which I as Lord Chancellor have taken an oath to uphold’. His comments were seen as a threat to quit if Mr Johnson actively disobeyed the law. Other ministers would be expected to follow him.

Plaid Cymru leader Liz Saville Roberts said breaking the law should result in Mr Johnson being impeached by Parliament. 

Mr Johnson himself backed such a move against Tony Blair in 2004, but the mechanism has never been successfully used against a PM. 

Another plan believed to be under consideration by Number 10 would seen an official sent to sign off the extension instead of Mr Johnson to give the PM political cover.

What will happen if Boris Johnson refuses to ask for a Brexit delay? And could the Supreme Court send a CIVIL SERVANT to Brussels to ask for an extension?

Lord Sumption, a former Supreme Court justice, said today that the PM would struggle to find legal ‘loopholes’ to avoid complying with an anti-No Deal law

Legal experts have dismissed suggestions that Boris Johnson could find a ‘loophole’ to avoid complying with an anti-No Deal law passed by Parliament. 

The law will force the PM to ask the EU for a Brexit delay if no agreement has been struck by the two sides in the run up to Halloween.  

The legislation will require him to send a letter to Brussels asking for the departure date to be pushed back to January 31. 

But Mr Johnson is reportedly considering a plan to send another letter – along with the legally required one – stating that the UK does not actually want an extension. 

However, former Supreme Court justice Lord Sumption today suggested such a move would be illegal.  

He said: ‘Not only has he got to send the letter, he’s got to apply for an extension. To send the letter and then try to neutralise it seems to me, plainly, a breach of the Act.

‘What you’ve got to realise is the courts are not very fond of loopholes.’

Lord Sumption also suggested that if Mr Johnson were to refuse to send the legally required letter the Supreme Court could order a civil servant to sign one and send it on the PM’s behalf.   

Whether or not there is a way for the government to ignore the anti-No Deal law is one of many key questions circulating in Westminster today. Here are the answers to the main talking points: 

What will happen today? 

Mr Johnson will ask MPs to vote for an early general election. The vote will take place this evening and the PM is expected to see his wish thwarted for the second time after his initial attempt was defeated last week. 

The government will then suspend parliament – sending MPs home for five weeks until October 14. 

How does prorogation actually work? 

Downing Street said this morning that it will prorogue Parliament regardless of whether MPs vote for an early election. 

When a minister moves the motion the intention to suspend is then announced on behalf of the Queen in the House of Lords. 

MPs are summoned to attend the Lords chamber to hear the announcement before then returning to the Commons to hear John Bercow read out the same announcement.  

The prorogation statement will set out which Bills have been given Royal Assent – a final piece of housekeeping before everyone is sent home. 

Parliament will return on October 14. 

Boris Johnson, pictured in Dublin this morning, has said he will not ask for a Brexit delay in any circumstances

Will there be an election before Halloween?

The PM wants there to be a snap poll on October 15 but opposition leaders have said they will not back an election being held until a Brexit delay has been agreed with Brussels. 

That’s a major problem for Mr Johnson because under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act he needs the support of two thirds of the House of Commons in order to dissolve Parliament for an election. 

When he tried to force an election last week he won the vote but fell far short of the magic number of 434 MPs he needed. 

Opposition MPs are again expected to abstain or vote against the government this evening which means the chances of an election before the current Brexit deadline are slim.  

Assuming Mr Johnson does proceed with proroguing Parliament tonight, MPs will not return to Westminster until October 14 – by that point it will be too late to go to the polls before October 31.  

Is there another way for the government to force an election?

Yes. If the government loses tonight’s vote it could theoretically hold off on suspending Parliament and bring forward a piece of legislation for MPs to vote on either

The aim of that legislation would be to skirt around the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. Essentially it would propose a date for an election and MPs would be asked to vote for it.

A simple majority would be needed for it to pass, rather than the two-thirds required by a motion tabled under the FTPA.

However, such a course of action would be risky for the government because MPs could amend the legislation, potentially to change the date until after October 31.

The government does not have a majority in the Commons. But there is a majority against No Deal. That means the government is likely to fail in its bid for an early election regardless of the mechanism it chooses.

Meanwhile, Downing Street said this morning that prorogation will take place even if it loses the election vote, ruling out trying again using a different mechanism. 

Is the government still trying to get a deal by October 31?

Yes. But there is a major row over just how hard Downing Street is pushing for a deal. 

Amber Rudd, who quit the government on Saturday night, said yesterday that she believed 90 per cent of Whitehall’s Brexit efforts were now focused on preparing for a No Deal divorce. 

But Number 10 is insistent that its primary goal remains Britain leaving with a deal.  

Amber Rudd, pictured arriving at the BBC yesterday, stunned Westminster on Saturday night as she quit the government and surrendered the Tory whip

However, talks with the EU remain locked in a state of stalemate with the main stumbling block being the Irish border backstop. 

Mr Johnson said he will not sign up to any Brexit deal that contains the protocol and the EU has said it is open to listening to the UK’s proposed alternatives to the insurance policy. 

But Mr Johnson is yet to set out in public any concrete plans for how the backstop could be deleted. 

Meanwhile, today it was claimed that the size of the UK’s negotiating team had been slashed which is unlikely to boost hopes of a deal being done. Downing Street has denied the claim. 

Many in the government believe that Brussels will only budge at the eleventh hour which could make for a high stakes game of brinkmanship as the Brexit deadline approaches. 

If the EU and UK cannot agree a deal before October 31, could they agree one after that?

Assuming they do agree an extension and there is then an election, potentially. 

A new prime minister, or the current one, with a big majority would open up new possibilities in the talks with Brussels and could pave the way for a deal being done. 

Does Amber Rudd’s resignation matter and will other ministers quit? 

It matters in the sense that it sent a powerful message to Mr Johnson over the direction of the government and the Conservative Party. 

But it is unlikely to have lasting repercussions – after all, she becomes the 22nd Tory MP to leave the government benches in the space of a week. 

Ms Rudd’s opposition to No Deal was well known which is why her decision to join Mr Johnson’s Cabinet when he took office raised so many eyebrows. 

There are a handful of other ministers who are similarly concerned about the prospect of a chaotic split and could quit. They include Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith and Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan.  

Can the Prime Minister ignore the anti-No Deal law? 

MPs and peers last week successfully passed a piece of legislation which will force the PM to ask the EU for a Brexit delay if the two sides have not struck an agreement in the run up to October 31. 

That legislation is expected to make it onto the statute book and receive Royal Assent today. 

Once that happens there will be a legal requirement on PM to try to push back the Brexit date if a bad break from Brussels is looking likely. 

Downing Street remains adamant that Mr Johnson will not ask for an extension but ignoring that requirement would trigger a constitutional, political and legal firestorm. 

If Mr Johnson failed to ask for a Brexit extension at a crunch EU summit on October 17 – as MPs have demanded – it would almost certainly trigger a Supreme Court challenge. 

The fate of Brexit would then be in the hands of judges and experts believe that Mr Johnson would risk a prison sentence if he tried to flaunt the law. 

As Lord Sumption said this morning, judges are ‘not very fond of loopholes’ which means the government could face a hard time convincing them that the PM was correct to defy the legislation. 

Jeremy Corbyn, pictured leaving his London home this morning, will tell his MPs to abstain at tonight’s vote on an early general election

So when will there be a general election?  

One thing that almost everyone in Westminster agrees with is that an election will take place before Christmas. 

It is hard to see how long Parliament could continue to function given the fact that Mr Johnson can no longer command a majority in the Commons after expelling 21 Tory rebels for backing the bid to block No Deal. 

Minority governments are by their very nature unstable and add to that the fact that a number of parties are keen for an election – most notably the Lib Dems and SNP – and a snap poll appears inevitable. 

Labour also says publicly that it wants an election which means it is just a matter of timing. 

Jeremy Corbyn said he would back an election once No Deal has been taken off the table. 

Assuming that happens towards the end of October, an election could then be held in November. 

Will the EU agree to delay Brexit again? 

Brussels has long maintained that it is open to pushing back the UK’s departure date but only if it is for a very good reason: A general election or second referendum. 

The EU does not want the Brexit stalemate to continue indefinitely and a major democratic event is viewed as potentially the only way to get things moving.  

However, the EU will not want to be blamed for a No Deal Brexit – particularly the damage that it could do to the Irish economy – which means when it comes to the crunch the bloc is expected to offer a delay, regardless of the situation. 

But nothing is guaranteed.  


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