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Boris Johnson 'sabotage' letter to EU 'would break law'

The Guardian logo The Guardian 09/09/2019 Aamna Mohdin
a man wearing a suit and tie: Boris Johnson is said to be considering sending an accompanying letter to the EU alongside the request to extend article 50, which would say the government does not want any delay to Brexit. © The Guardian Boris Johnson is said to be considering sending an accompanying letter to the EU alongside the request to extend article 50, which would say the government does not want any delay to Brexit.

A former supreme court justice has said Boris Johnson would be in contempt of court if he applied for article 50 extension while simultaneously trying to get the EU to reject it.

Reports in the Daily Telegraph suggested that the prime minister has drawn up plans to “sabotage” parliament’s efforts to force through a Brexit extension to prevent the UK leaving the bloc without a deal.

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He is said to be considering sending an accompanying letter to the EU alongside the request to extend article 50, which would say the government does not want any delay to Brexit.

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Lord Sumption, a former supreme court justice, said it would not be legal for the prime minister to ask for an extension while rubbishing the request at the same time.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The bill or the act as its about to become says that he’s got to apply for an extension. Not only has he got to send the letter, he’s got to apply for an extension. And to send the letter and then try and neutralise it seems to me to be plainly a breach of the act.”

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A Downing Street source said: “We intend to sabotage any extension. The ‘surrender bill’ only kicks in if an extension is offered. Once people realise our plans, there is a good chance we won’t be offered a delay. Even if we are, we intend to sabotage that too.”

Sumption said he had read the bill and there wasn’t “the slightest obscurity” about what the government was obligated to do. He said: “I think you’ve got to realise that the courts are not very fond of loopholes. They’re going to interpret this act in a way that gives effect to its obvious purpose unless there’s something in the act that makes it completely impossible to do so and there isn’t.”

Sumption said Johnson would not only be in contempt of court if he failed to do what the bill states, he risked the resignation of the justice secretary, the attorney general, and other members of his cabinet.

He added there were “plenty of ways” in which this kind of obligation can be enforced. “An application will have to be made to the court for an injunction. The simplest way of enforcing the injunction would be for the court simply to direct an official to sign the letter on behalf of the PM and to declare that his signature was to be treated in every legal respect as equivalent to the prime minister’s,” he explained.

Tory MP Nigel Evans said Johnson was more likely to call for a vote of no confidence in his own government or try to force an election via another means than to go to Brussels to ask for an article 50 extension.

The joint executive secretary of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs told the Today programme: “I cannot see under the current circumstances Boris Johnson going to Brussels and asking for that extension.”

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