Court document says U.K. to seek Brexit delay if no deal made

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson would seek an extension to the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline if no withdrawal deal with the European Union is reached by mid-October, according to a document read aloud in a Scottish court Friday.

The document that a lawyer quoted from in Scotland’s Court of Session indicated Johnson intends to comply with a law Parliament passed this month that requires the prime minister to ask the EU for a postponement if no Brexit deal is in place by Oct. 19.

Lawyer Andrew Webster, representing the British government, said the document is a “clear statement” of what the prime minister would do.

He was arguing in a court case brought by activists seeking a court order that would force Johnson to seek an extension for Brexit. Webster said there is no need for a court intervention since the government has made its intentions known.

“What we have is a clear statement on behalf of the prime minister and government as to what it will do in respect to the requirements of the 2019 Act,” he said, referring to the law passed last month instructing the government to seek a delay if no deal is reached.

He said the government still wants to leave the union on Oct. 31 and plans to do so.

Lawyer Jo Maugham, who represents legislators and activists trying to make sure Johnson observes the law, said that he and others read from a British government submission that included the statement, “he [Johnson] will send a letter in the form set out.”

“What we learned today is that the prime minister has promised the court, in his own name, that he will ask for an extension under the Benn Act if the conditions are satisfied,” Maugham told local media.

Document contradicts Johnson’s word

The segments read in court contradict Johnson’s public assertions on the crucial question of whether the United Kingdom, if unable to finalize a divorce deal with other EU countries by the end of the month, would leave the bloc without an agreement.

Johnson has insisted he wouldn’t ask for an extension under any circumstances, saying colourfully he would rather be “dead in a ditch,” and vowed he will take the U.K. out of the EU as scheduled on Oc t. 31, with or without an agreement.

His office did not offer an immediate response to the government submission read in court. Johnson has not said anything indicating a change in his position.

He did, however, allude to where he stands on the issue in a short tweet he posted Friday.

Conservative Party lawmaker Steve Baker, leader of a prominent pro-Brexit group in Parliament, said the court statement “does not mean we will extend. It does not mean we will stay in the EU beyond Oct. 31. We will leave.”

Christopher Pincher, Britain’s minister for Europe, said Friday that he hopes EU leaders come in a “fair spirit” to talks on the Brexit deal proposal Johnson submitted this week. Otherwise, the country will leave the bloc at the end of the month without an agreement.

Conservative MP Steve Baker, seen in this November 2018 file photo, says the court documents do not mean the U.K. will stay in the EU beyond Oct. 31. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

Pincher called the new proposal “a good, fair and reasonable compromise” that presents a “broad landing zone” for talks that would enable the U.K. to leave the bloc in an “orderly and friendly way.”

However, Johnson’s willingness to embrace a no-deal Brexit has alarmed many lawmakers since the government’s own assessment of such a scenario warns of an economic slowdown, severe delays at British ports and possible food and medicine shortages if “no deal” becomes a reality.

EU leaders: Johnson’s deal falls short

Talks between U.K. and EU officials are continuing but key European leaders have already said they think the measures Johnson proposed this week fall far short of the concessions needed to forge a deal.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, whose country would be among the most directly impacted by Brexit, said Friday he thinks EU members would contemplate delaying Brexit if the British government gives a good reason for seeking another extension.

“I think we would consider that,” he said.

The border between Ireland and Northern Ireland has been a stumbling block in the talks. Johnson proposed a compromise that has received mixed reviews from other EU nations.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Friday that Britain’s new Brexit proposal could ‘at best’ form a basis for further discussions, but many questions still remain. (Michele Tantussi/Reuters)

Britain’s new Brexit proposal could “at best” form the basis for further discussions, but many questions still remain, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Friday.

“These proposals raise many questions, and we will have to discuss them,” Rutte said. “We can’t simply say ‘yes’ to them.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesperson welcomed the new deal, but noted that Johnson is describing it as “an opening offer.”

Each of the 27 other EU nations would have to approve Britain’s request before an extension could be granted.

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