- Boris Johnson will ask the EU to delay Brexit if he does not secure a deal, court papers say.
- The prime minister has said he would rather “be dead in a ditch” than delay Brexit.
- However, government papers submitted to Scottish judges and revealed on Friday say he is planning to ask for a fresh extension to Article 50 if he does not secure a new deal.
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LONDON — Boris Johnson will ask the European Union to delay Brexit if he has not secured a deal by the legal deadline, court papers say, despite the prime minister’s repeated insistence he will not ask for an Article 50 extension.
The prime minister has said he would rather “be dead in a ditch” than delay the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU and told members of parliament this week that he would not delay Brexit beyond October 31.
This is despite the recent passage of the Benn Act, which compels Johnson to ask the EU for another extension to the Article 50 process if he has not secured parliamentary approval for a Brexit deal by October 19.
However, in papers submitted to the Court of Session in Scotland, Johnson’s government has said it will comply with the Benn Act and request a fresh Brexit delay if he fails to secure a deal, Sky News reported on Friday.
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “All this means is that we will obey the law. It does not mean we will extend. It does not mean we will stay in EU beyond October 31. We will not.”
The leaders of the other 27 EU member states must agree to any UK request to extend Article 50. The issue is set to be thrashed out at a European Council summit in Brussels later this month.
EU figures have reportedly given Johnson ten days to revise the Brexit proposals he sent to Brussels this week in order for there to be a meaningful negotiation.
European ambassadors issued the October 11 ultimatum on Thursday evening after Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said the UK government needed to “fundamentally alter its position” before negotiations could take place, the Times newspaper reported.
What are Johnson’s proposals?
Johnson wants the EU to scrap the backstop — an insurance policy designed to keep a free-flowing border on the island of Ireland — and replace it with his proposals for managing the Irish border after Brexit.
Under his plan, sent to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker Juncker on Wednesday, there would be two new borders after Brexit if new trading arrangements were not in place: a customs border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and a regulatory border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
This is because Northern Ireland would leave the customs union with the rest of the UK but continue to follow swathes of European single market rules covering agricultural and industrial goods.
The arrangement would kick in at the end of the transition period in December 2020, should parliamentarians in the Northern Irish Assembly vote for it. They would then vote on whether to continue with those arrangements every four years.
While the EU Commission has not rejected Johnson’s proposals outright, many senior figures have indicated that they are unworkable and perhaps even dead on arrival, because it would involve customs checks on the island of Ireland, which would appear to contravene the terms of the Good Friday peace agreement.