Judges delay ruling on bid to make Boris Johnson ask Brussels for Brexit extension

Posted On: 
9th October 2019

Judges have delayed making a decision on whether Boris Johnson should be forced to request a Brexit extension if he fails to agree a new deal with Brussels.

Pro-EU campaigners outside the Court of Session.
PA Images

The Court of Session in Edinburgh will consider the case again on 21 October - two days after the deadline for the Prime Minister to have got a fresh agreement through Parliament.

Pro-EU campaigners said the decision meant there was a "sword of Damocles" now hanging over Mr Johnson.

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The 19 October cut-off date is the key part of the Benn Act passed by MPs last month, which seeks to prevent the UK leaving the EU without a deal at the end of the month.

Mr Johnson has so far insisted that he will both obey the law, but also refuse to ask Brussels for the Article 50 extension.

Campaigners wanted the court to use its "nobile officium" power to sign a letter to EU leaders on behalf of the PM if he refused to do so himself.

Judges at the Outer House of the Court of Session dismissed the legal action on Monday because “unequivocal assurances” had been given by Mr Johnson’s team that he would meet the requirements of the Benn Act.

Following an appeal on Wednesday, three judges said they would not rule on the case until 21 October, when circumstances should be "significantly clearer".

The case had been brought forward by businessman Vince Dale, SNP MP Joanna Cherry QC and Jolyon Maugham QC

Their representative, Aidan O'Neill QC, admitted that arguing the court should write the letter asking for a delay rather than the PM was an "an unprecedented step, but these are unprecedented times".

Meanwhile the Government's lawyer, Andrew Webster QC, said any interference from the courts could hold back the UK's negotiations with the EU.

Elaine Motion from the petitioners’ legal team told journalists outside the court: “There is a sword of Damocles over the Prime Minister’s head to comply with the Benn Act and we hope he does.

“We hope we do not have to return to the court on 21 October and that politics can run its course and only if he doesn’t comply with the orders we have to come back to the court.”

Meanwhile Edinburgh South-West MP Ms Cherry told the BBC: "I’m absolutely delighted."

“What we’ve achieved by bringing this action is that the Prime Minister has given his unequivocal word to the court that he will follow the provisions of the Benn Act and importantly not seek to frustrate it in any way.

She added: “I’m very pleased that the court are holding over until Monday 21 October to see if the Prime Minister keeps his word.”