Johnson Looking for Way to Dodge Law, Court Hears: Brexit Update

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Boris Johnson has promised to send a letter delaying Brexit if he can’t get a deal with the European Union by Oct. 19, according to government papers submitted to a Scottish court.

The pledge contradicts the prime minister’s insistence he will not seek an extension in any circumstances and that the U.K. will leave on Oct. 31. A key pro-Brexit lawmaker said he’s been reassured that plan hasn’t changed and the court heard that Johnson is looking for ways to dodge the law.

As talks continue in Brussels, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said there are big problems with Johnson’s latest proposals for the Irish border and gave the U.K. 10 days to improve them.

Key Developments:

Johnson’s lead negotiator David Frost in Brussels for talksJohnson Commits to Sending Brexit Extension Letter, Court ToldJohnson rival Rory Stewart quits Conservative Party – says he will run as independent candidate for mayor of LondonJohnson Gets One Week to Improve His Plan for Brexit Backstop

Johnson Pledges No Delay (4:50 p.m.)

Boris Johnson doubled down on his commitment to leave the EU on Oct. 31 just hours after it was revealed in court that he has committed to requesting an extension if he can’t reach a deal by Oct. 19 (see 12:30 p.m.).

“New deal or no deal — but no delay,” he posted on Twitter, indicating he has no intention of being tied to the law to block a no-deal Brexit passed by Parliament last month.

PM Looking for Ways to Dodge Law, Court Hears (3:45 p.m.)

A Scottish Court will rule Monday over whether to order Boris Johnson’s government to obey the law blocking a no-deal Brexit.

In closing arguments on Friday, Aidan O’Neill, a lawyer for politicians opposed to a no-deal split from the EU, said there’s plenty of evidence that Johnson plans to find a way around the legislation, which forces him to seek a delay if he can’t reach an agreement.

He cited a BBC report that Johnson’s team are focused on interpreting the law in a way that will allow the U.K. to leave at the end of the month — with or without a deal — and the premier is privately telling EU leaders he has no intention of delaying the U.K.’s divorce from the bloc.

O’Neill questioned whether the strategy would work. “No doubt the prime minister’s capacity for self-deception exceeds his ability to deceive others,” he said.

Lawyer Explains Johnson’s Contradiction is O.K. (3:15 p.m.)

Government lawyer Andrew Webster argued that U.K. ministers are free to make statements that contradict the Benn Act because the legislation — which blocks a no-deal Brexit without Parliament’s consent — is not government policy.

As a result they are free to oppose it as a matter of politics while at the same time stating they will abide by it as a point of law. The EU has re-engaged as a result of the approach, proving that it’s “effective,” he said.

The court heard earlier from Aidan O’Neill, a lawyer for the government’s opponents, that Johnson can’t be trusted and his repeated pledges to leave on Oct. 31 “come what may” suggest he is preparing to break the law.

“We are concerned that those threatening words are shortly going to be translated into unlawful deeds,” O’Neill said.

Johnson’s Lawyer Confirms Extension Pledge (3 p.m.)

Andrew Webster, a lawyer for the U.K. government, told the court in Edinburgh there had been a clear statement from Boris Johnson regarding the Benn Act, confirming the filing that said the prime minister had pledged to seek an extension to Brexit if he is unable to reach a deal by Oct. 19.

“It’s been put on record so that there can be no doubt,” Webster said.

For much of his arguments this afternoon, Webster has argued that the lawsuit designed to force Johnson to seek the extension was filed incorrectly and should be dismissed.

Brexiteers Reassured Over Court Delay Pledge (1:50 p.m.)

Steve Baker, chairman of the pro-Brexit European Research Group of MPs, said he has been reassured that Boris Johnson’s government has no intention of seeking a further delay to the split from the EU.

“A source confirms all this means is that government will obey the law. It does not mean we will extend,” Baker wrote on Twitter after papers emerged from a Scottish Court suggesting Johnson would request a Brexit delay (see 12:30 p.m.). “It does not mean we will stay in the EU beyond Oct. 31. We will leave.”

While Baker didn’t explicitly reveal the source of his information, Johnson’s team have been keen to keep the ERG on side as their votes will be crucial to getting any deal through Parliament.

Deal by Mid-October Still Possible, Irish Say (1:40 p.m.)

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said a deal with the U.K. on Brexit is still possible, but Boris Johnson needs to refocus on measures to avoid a return to a border in Ireland.

Varadkar was speaking in Copenhagen alongside Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, who vowed to maintain solidarity with Ireland on Brexit, even though her nation would be badly hurt by a no-deal divorce.

U.K.’s Smith Questions Stormont Lock (1:30 p.m.)

Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith appeared to open the way for easing the so-called Stormont veto in an effort to get a Brexit deal, saying there are “many ways” for the region to consent to a deal.

The Stormont lock has become a key obstacle to a deal because under current rules the DUP or any Northern Ireland party could stop the region aligning with EU rules on food and other goods with a minority of votes in the Stormont assembly. In comments broadcast by RTE, however, Smith pointed out that the Good Friday Agreement which gave rise to the assembly is “very clear” that one party cannot dominate the others.

Johnson Unlikely to Visit EU Leaders at Weekend (12:45 p.m.)

Boris Johnson is now unlikely to visit fellow EU leaders this weekend to sell his deal, according to a person familiar with his plans. He’s still expected to meet with Ireland’s Leo Varadkar next week.

Johnson Has Pledged to Send Letter, Court Told (12:30 p.m.)

Boris Johnson has pledged to send a letter to European leaders, as required under the so-called Benn Act, a lawyer told a Scottish court.

Johnson made the commitment to send the letter by no later than Oct. 19, Aidan O’Neill, an attorney for anti no-deal Brexit challengers, said in Edinburgh, where judges are hearing a challenge to his plan to leave without a deal.

A spokesman for Johnson’s office in London declined to comment on an ongoing court case.

Date Set For Next Scottish Court Showdown (11:45 a.m.)

There are many moving parts in the Edinburgh court action, with the most drastic — the request to the court to send a letter to EU leaders in place of the prime minister — confirmed for a hearing on Tuesday.

“Getting a court to sign a letter on behalf of someone else would be unprecedented,” Judge Drummond Young said.

The second action is a petition seeking to bind Johnson under threat of a fine or imprisonment. That’s set to be heard later today, with a ruling expected on Monday. Regardless of the decision, that case is also likely to be appealed in a joint hearing next week.

Taskforce Wants to be ‘Generous’ With U.K. (11:30 a.m.)

After his earlier comments (see 10:15 a.m.), Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said there’s “huge appetite to be generous” to the U.K.

Speaking to reporters in Dublin, he said they will work “night and day” to find the way forward, adding ‘’hopefully” next week, there will be reason for more optimism.

“We’re still quite far apart but hope we can close that gap,” he said.

EU denies Johnson Given One Week Deadline (11:15 a.m.)

European Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud denied the U.K has been handed a one-week deadline to reach a compromise with the EU.

“Every day counts,” Bertaud told reporters in Brussels. but there’s no week-long deadline. Technical negotiations between EU and U.K teams are ongoing today, she added.

Johnson Has Boxed Himself In, Coveney Says (10:15 a.m.)

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said Johnson’s proposals represent a “step forward,” but repeated that they contain “significant” problems and can’t be supported.

Again, he focused on the possibility that the proposals would deliver a customs border in Ireland, and offer the DUP a veto over regulatory alignment.

Speaking to RTE on Friday, he said the U.K. needs to present an improved offer within 10 days. He warned that Johnson has “boxed himself in” and left little room for maneuver with his promises during the Tory leadership campaign and choice of cabinet.

Rory Stewart Quits Conservative Party (9 a.m.)

Rory Stewart, who ran against Boris Johnson to be Tory leader and was expelled from the Parliamentary party for voting against the prime minister’s Brexit strategy, announced he won’t run for election again and has quit the Conservative Party.

“It’s been a great privilege to serve Penrith and The Border for the last ten years, so it is with sadness that I am announcing that I will be standing down at the next election, and that I have also resigned from the Conservative Party,” Stewart wrote on Twitter.

Stewart later told London’s Evening Standard newspaper that he wants to stand for election as mayor of the U.K. capital. He will run as an independent to break “the suffocating embrace of our dying party politics,” he said.

Court Bid to Enforce Brexit Delay (Earlier)

Brexit finds itself back in court in Scotland today in a case that seeks to empower the courts to write to Brussels asking for an extension if there is no deal by Oct. 19 and Boris Johnson refuses to do so.

In addition to asking the court to send the letter asking for a Brexit extension, English lawyer Jolyon Maugham is seeking to bind Johnson under threat of a fine or imprisonment if he refuses to comply with the law requiring him to do so.

The law, passed by Parliament last month, obliges the prime minister to seek a delay to Brexit until Jan. 31 unless he can agree a deal with the EU or win Parliamentary consent for leaving the bloc without one.

Earlier:

Johnson Gets One Week to Improve His Plan for Brexit BackstopHow a No-Deal Brexit May Become a Problem for the World EconomyBrexit’s Next Court Drama Could Kill Johnson’s Do or Die Vow

–With assistance from Thomas Penny, Alastair Reed, Nikos Chrysoloras, Peter Flanagan, Robert Hutton and Dara Doyle.

To contact the reporters on this story: Alastair Reed in Edinburgh at areed12@bloomberg.net;Jonathan Browning in London at jbrowning9@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tim Ross at tross54@bloomberg.net, Thomas Penny

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