The Brexit secretary has indicated Boris Johnson will send a letter to the EU seeking an extension if there is no agreement by Saturday.
Pressed by the Brexit select committee as to whether the prime minister would obey the Benn act, Stephen Barclay said the government “will abide by that text”.
He also denied knowledge of any plan to send a second letter to Brussels asking officials to ignore the first because the government did not want an extension. The legislation passed by MPs opposed to a no-deal Brexit requires the prime minister to ask the EU to extend article 50 beyond October 31 should a deal not be agreed by October 19.
UK negotiators resumed talks yesterday morning after wrapping up their previous session in the early hours as they search for an agreement ready for a meeting of EU leaders today.
If Johnson fails to achieve a deal by the weekend, he will clash with MPs, who will demand he complies with the Benn act and asks for an extension, something he has repeatedly ruled out.
Hilary Benn, the chair of the committee, asked Barclay: “Can you confirm if there is no agreement reached which is approved by parliament on Saturday that by the end of the day the PM will write the letter?”
Barclay replied: “I can confirm as the PM has repeatedly set out that firstly the government will comply with the law. And secondly, the government will comply with undertakings given to the court in respect of the law.”
Benn pointed out the undertaking given to the court was that Johnson would send a letter if specific conditions were not satisfied.
Barclay said: “I can confirm the government will abide by that text.”
The government told a Scottish court earlier this month the prime minister accepted he would have no choice but to send a letter. However, there have been repeated briefings from No 10 that claimed ministers have found a way to bypass the law.
Ministers have indicated the government could send a second letter asking the EU to ignore the first asking for an extension. The business secretary, Andrea Leadsom, asked by ITV’s Robert Peston last week if Johnson would send a second letter disavowing the first, replied: “Absolutely.”
Joanna Cherry, a Scottish National party MP and member of the committee, asked Barclay if there was a plan to send two letters. “I am not aware of any such plan,” he replied. — AP