Boris Johnson has insisted that he will not delay Brexit, despite his lawyers saying he will comply with a law calling for the October 31 exit date to be postponed if there is no deal.
Are the two statements contradictory? And can Britain leave the European Union this month without an agreement?
– What is the state of play?
The European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019 – known as the Benn Act – was fast-tracked through Parliament in a bid to prevent the Government from forcing through a no-deal Brexit.
It requires a delay to Brexit beyond October 31 unless a divorce deal is approved or Parliament agrees to leaving the EU without one by October 19.
The PM would have to send a letter to the president of the European Council requesting an extension to Article 50 until January 31 2020.
– What was said at the Scottish Court of Session?
Lawyers acting for the Prime Minister said Boris Johnson would comply with the law calling for the October 31 exit date to be postponed if there is no Brexit deal.
The legal action – led by businessman Vince Dale, SNP MP Joanna Cherry QC and Jolyon Maugham QC – asked the court to require Mr Johnson to seek an extension to avoid leaving the EU without a deal.
Andrew Webster QC, representing the UK Government, said the documents it has submitted to the court are a “clear statement” as to what the Prime Minister will do.
He argued there is no need for an order to be made forcing a letter requesting an Article 50 extension to be sent under the terms of the Benn Act, because the court has it on record it will be sent.
– How has Boris Johnson responded?
The Prime Minister has again insisted that he will not delay Brexit, saying the options facing the country were his proposed new Brexit deal or leaving without an agreement, “but no delay”.
He has previously said “we will obey the law” but will also leave on October 31 in any circumstance, without specifying how he would achieve the apparently contradictory goals – fuelling speculation that he had identified a loophole to get around the Benn Act.
He has also declared he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than ask for a delay.
– What possible tactics could be deployed to avoid a delay?
Chancellor Sajid Javid joked at the Conservative Party conference that there could be more than five ways around the Benn Act, and other Cabinet ministers have hinted there may be a way of wriggling out of it.
Here is a look at some of the potential tactics.
1. EU law supremacy?
Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg told a fringe event at the Tory conference that “Article 50 and EU law overrides the Benn Act”.
As Article 50 is outlined in EU law, this could, if Mr Rees-Mogg’s assessment is correct, supersede the Benn Act.
2. Ask Brussels to reject an extension
Boris Johnson could fulfil the pledge to request an extension if a deal is not agreed by October 19, and then reject it.
It is thought he could do this by sending a second letter making clear the Government does not want a delay.
He could also veto the extension – or ask another member state to veto on his behalf.
3. A loophole in the law
The obligation on the Prime Minister to seek an extension will cease to exist if a deal is approved by Parliament on or before October 19.
However, the legislation would still need to pass Parliament before October 31 to avoid a no-deal exit.
It could fall at one of the many hurdles on the way – leading Britain to crash out at the end of the month.
– Could Boris Johnson get a deal?
Brussels has delivered a significant blow to the Prime Minister’s new Brexit proposals, as EU member states agreed they “do not provide a basis for concluding an agreement”.
A European Commission spokesman said discussions between the two sides would not take place this weekend but the UK will be given “another opportunity to present its proposals in detail” on Monday.
But Ireland’s deputy leader struck a more optimistic tone, denying it was “mission impossible” to reach a deal before the October 31 deadline.