Stephen Barclay confirms Boris Johnson will write Brexit delay letter if no deal struck by weekend
Boris Johnson will write a letter asking for an extension to Article 50 this weekend if he cannot strike an EU deal that gets through the House of Commons, the Brexit Secretary has confirmed.
Stephen Barclay told MPs the Prime Minister “will comply” with the terms of the so-called Benn Act, which orders him to ask the EU for a three-month Brexit extension if no deal can be agreed by 19 October.
Talks aimed at thrashing out an agreement are currently underway in Brussels, with Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Wednesday morning saying he believed a deal “can be done today”.
If a deal is struck, MPs are likely to be asked to approve it in a special sitting of Parliament on Saturday.
But Mr Barclay was pressed on what would happen if no agreement could be reached and then approved by MPs.
Hillary Benn, who chairs of the Exiting the European Committee and helped drawn up the Benn Act, asked: “Can you confirm that if there is no agreement reached, which is approved by Parliament on Saturday, that by the end of the day the Prime Minister will write the letter that he is required to send by the European Union Withdrawal No 2 Act?”
The Brexit Secretary replied: “I can confirm, as the Prime Minister has repeatedly set out that firstly the Government will comply with the law and secondly it will comply with undertakings given to the court in respect of the law.”
Government documents handed to the Court of Session in Edinburgh earlier this month said the Prime Minister “cannot act so as to prevent the letter requesting the specified extension in the Act from being sent”, and Mr Benn asked whether this meant he would therefore “send the letter”.
Mr Barclay replied: “I confirm that the Government will abide by what it set out in that letter.”
Asked directly whether that meant sending the Article 50 request, Mr Barclay replied: “Well, you read it out and I refer back to that text.”
Elsewhere in his committee grilling, the Brexit Secretary ruled out a short Brexit extension even if one is needed to put the finishing touches on an agreement.
Conservative MP Stephen Crabb asked: “If it does look like we can get a deal in the coming days and it looks like we will need a bit more time to do the legalese around it: would you be comfortable with a short, technical extension to get it done?”
Mr Barclay replied: “No. I think it is important that we leave on 31 October.”
The session also saw heated exchanges between Mr Benn and some Conservative members of the committee.
After a string of questions from the chairman, Tory Craig Mackinlay raised a point order to ask “what we’re doing here”.
And he said to Mr Benn: “You’ve had the floor now for 20 minutes and I doubt that any other member will have the floor for twenty minutes for this discussions this morning. And I would welcome an opportunity for others to speak.”
Fellow Brexiteer Andrea Jenkyns then chimed in to brand the Labour backbencher “rather biased because you’re pushing the Benn Act through”.
Mr Benn shot back: “Well. Your comments are noted.”