Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson must write to the EU seeking another Brexit extension if no deal has been reached by October 19, according to government papers submitted to a Scottish court.
The detail came as anti-Brexit campaigners began legal action to force Johnson to comply with a new law that forces him to seek a delay rather than leave the EU on October 31 with no deal.
The “Benn Act” was passed last month by opposition lawmakers and rebels in Johnson’s Conservative party. Johnson refers to the law as the “Surrender Act” but has said he will abide by it. However, he has also commented that he would “rather be dead in a ditch” than delay Brexit beyond October 31.
Friday’s legal challenge seeks to impose penalties “including fine and imprisonment” if Johnson fails to comply with the new law.
In submissions to the Scottish court, the government said that Johnson accepted that he was obliged to send a letter to the EU asking for a delay and that, if an extension was granted, Britain would also agree to it.
“In the event that neither of the conditions set out … is satisfied he will send a letter in the form set out in the schedule by no later than 19 October 2019,” said the document posted on Twitter by Jo Maugham, an anti-Brexit lawyer involved in the case.
Separately, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Friday that he would consider an extension to the if the UK requested one, adding that an extension would be preferable to the UK crashing out of the EU.
“My preference is that we come to an agreement and that we have a deal by the middle of October,” Varadkar said during a meeting with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen in Copenhagen.
“But if the UK government were to request an extension, of course we would consider it. But I think most EU countries would really only consider it for a good reason, and that reason would have to be put forward. But certainly an extension would be better than ‘no deal’,” he said.
Johnson has also previously said that Britain will leave the EU, “do or die”, on October 31. His various contradictory statements remain unexplained, prompting speculation that he will seek a legal escape route or pressure the EU into refusing an automatic extension request.
Friday’s court case comes just over a week after Johnson was humiliated by a landmark Supreme Court ruling that he had suspended parliament unlawfully.