Judge dismisses no-deal Brexit court move

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Lawyers for the government insisted Mr Johnson would comply with the law

A Scottish judge has dismissed a move to force Boris Johnson to comply with a law aimed at avoiding a no-deal Brexit.

Campaigners had wanted to ensure that the prime minister would write to the EU to request an extension if no deal is in place by 19 October.

They argued that statements made by the government showed that it could not be trusted.

But Lord Pentland said there “can be no doubt” that the prime minister had agreed to abide by the law.

As a result, he said there was no need for “coercive orders” against the UK government or against the prime minister.

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Jo Maugham QC said the decision would be appealed

And he said it would be “destructive of one of the core principles of constitutional propriety and of the mutual trust that is the bedrock of the relationship between the court and the Crown” if Mr Johnson reneged on his assurances to the court.

The Scottish legal action was initiated by businessman Dale Vince, QC Jo Maugham and SNP MP Joanna Cherry.

They wanted the Court of Session, Scotland’s highest court, to rule on the extent to which Mr Johnson is bound by the so-called Benn Act.

The legislation was passed by MPs with the intention of preventing the UK leaving the European Union without a deal on 31 October.

It requires the prime minister to send a letter to the EU formally requesting an extension to the Brexit timetable.

Court orders ‘not necessary’

Lord Pentland said the UK government had accepted it must “comply fully” with the act and would not seek to “frustrate its purpose”.

The petitioners had argued that a series of public statements by the prime minster indicated Mr Johnson was planning to break the law.

However, the judge ruled that the UK government’s public statements were an expression of its “political policy” and were “clearly not intended to be taken as conclusive statements of the government’s understanding of its legal obligations”.

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Lord Pentland said that as the prime minister and the government had given “unequivocal assurances” to comply with the 2019 Act, he was “not persuaded that it is necessary for the court to grant the orders sought or any variant of them”.

One of the petitioners, Jo Maugham QC, said the decision would be appealed.

He said the ruling has left Mr Johnson with “wriggle room”.

“I very much hope the court is right and that the government will – as the government has promised to do – abide by the law,” Mr Maugham said.

“But there is very real doubt in my mind that the government will act in accordance with the law and so tomorrow we will pursue our appeal against the decision of the Outer House to the Inner House of the Court of Session, Scotland’s highest court.”

Timeline: What’s happened with the EU letter case?

  • 4 September – MPs back a bill aimed at blocking a no-deal Brexit on 31 October. The so-called Benn Act says Boris Johnson has until 19 October to either pass a deal in Parliament or get MPs to approve a no-deal Brexit.
  • 4 October – The Court of Session in Edinburgh starts to hear a case from Remain supporters who want a legal guarantee that if there is no deal on Brexit Mr Johnson will write a letter to the EU requesting an extension to the deadline.
  • 4 October – During that hearing papers are lodged at the court saying the prime minister will send the letter to the EU.
  • 7 October – Judge Lord Pentland dismisses the case saying there is “no doubt” that the PM accepts he will comply with the requirements of the act and send the letter in the event of a no deal.

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