Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom hinted that Boris Johnson was gearing up to by-pass legal obstacles to a no-deal Brexit by sending one letter requesting an extension, then submitting a second one telling European leaders he does not.
The Benn Act demands the Prime Minister requests a delay to the Article 50 deadline until January 2020 if a deal has not been agreed before October 19.
Johnson has repeatedly said that while he will abide by the law, he will be taking the UK out of the EU on October 31, with or without a deal.
Asked on ITV’s Peston programme whether the idea of sending two letters to the EU was a possible loophole, Brexiteer Leadsom replied: “Absolutely.”
The move being contemplated by Downing Street, according to Robert Peston and Andrea Leadsom would be unlawful – in direct contravention of the explicit assurance that Johnson’s advocate gave to the Court of Session. The Government cannot frustrate the purpose of a statute, according to constitutional law, and a second letter saying “not really” would be frustrating the purpose of the Benn Act should the PM attempt this way of getting round the legislation.
“Andrea Leadsom’s comments are neither the spirit nor the letter of the law. If there is no deal by the end of next week, the Prime Minister must ask for, and accept, an extension. One letter. No equivocation” responded Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer.
European Parliament president says extension should pave way for general election or second referendum
Andrea Leadsom reacted angrily to the news that the European Parliament’s President David Sassoli confirmed he had met Speaker John Bercow to discuss the terms of an extension.
The Italian politician said an extension would be approved if it paved the way for a second referendum or a general election.
Mr Sassoli told MEPs: “I had a fruitful discussion with Speaker Bercow in which I set out my view that any request for an extension should allow the British people to give their views in a referendum or an election.”
But both Ms Leadsom and Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage hit out at the meeting between the men in London on Wednesday.
Ms Leadsom reminded Mr Bercow, who is due to stand down at the end of the month, of the importance of remaining neutral in his role.
She said it was “absolutely vital” the Commons Speaker was “seen to be impartial and to not be picking sides and to not be interfering in matters that are political”.
Brexit Party leader Farage called the meeting “disgraceful” and fellow party member Belinda de Lucy MEP accused Mr Sassoli of “directly interfering” in British politics.
Boris Johnson branded ‘traitor’ for ‘bringing disaster on country’
In a tense day in the Belgian capital, the parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt called Mr Johnson a “traitor” for the no-deal Brexit disaster he was prepared to allow to wreak havoc on his country.
“All of those who are not playing his game are traitors, collaborators or surrenders,” said the former Belgian prime minister.
“Well, in my opinion the real traitor is he or she who risks bringing disaster upon his country, its economy and its citizens by pushing Britain out of the European Union.”