The government believe it is possible to circumvent parliamentary legislation requiring them to delay Britain’s departure from the EU by invoking European law, City A.M. understands.
Under the hastily-passed Benn Act, the Prime Minister must write to the EU seeking an extension to Article 50 if no Brexit deal secures parliamentary approval by 19 October.
Number 10 has repeatedly said it will comply with the law, while simultaneously insisting the UK will leave the EU by Halloween.
Advocates of the act believe it has effectively bound Boris Johnson’s hands, resulting necessarily in delaying Brexit until 31 January and removing the possibility of a no deal departure.
However, a closely guarded plan known to a small handful of aides would see the government point to the fact that Article 50 rests under EU law, while the Benn Act is enshrined in British law.
“European law usurps British law,” a source told City AM. “That means the Article 50 deadline trumps the Benn Act.”
Number 10 has repeatedly said it will comply with the law, while simultaneously insisting the UK will leave the EU by Halloween. This plan could see both seemingly contradictory statements come to fruition.
One high ranking Tory MP described the plan as legal, albeit a “wheeze.”
Meanwhile, former Prime Minister and Remain campaigner Sir John Major gave a speech saying he believed the plan was to “bypass Statute Law, by passing an Order of Council to suspend the Act until after 31 October.”
He told attendees at a Centre for European Reform event, held at the Spanish Embassy: “It is important to note that an Order of Council can be passed by Privy Councillors – that is Government Ministers – without involving HM The Queen.”
But Major warned: “If this route is taken – it will be in flagrant defiance of Parliament and utterly disrespectful to the Supreme Court.”
A government source told City AM: “The authors of the surrender bill want to prevent us from leaving the EU and force an extension. But interpretations of complying with the bill differ. One view is that the PM will be forced to send a letter stopping us from leaving on 31 October. That is not our view.” Downing Street declined to comment on the specifics of their interpretation.
Major’s speech came at the end of yet another day of high drama in Westminster, in which Johnson was taken to task over his use of language, particularly his description of the Benn Act as the “surrender bill”.
But a No 10 spokesman said the Prime Minister was “not backing away” from the phrase, saying the idea he would stop using it was “ridiculous”.
Johnson enjoyed a tub-thumping appearance before the Conservative backbenchers’ 1922 committee this morning after parliament voted to stop a period of recess for the party conference next week. The Cabinet also discussed election strategy and was told that September had been the party’s most successful fundraising month ever.
Despite the campaign to bring parliament back to discuss Brexit, the Commons adjourned at 5:04pm yesterday and will not sit tomorrow.
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