Brexit: Boris Johnson faces fresh legal challenge after Supreme Court humiliation

Court asked to appoint official to deliver extension letter to Brussels if the prime minister refuses

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Friday 04 October 2019 05:57
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Boris Johnson's new Brexit plan at a glance

Boris Johnson today faces a further legal challenge to his Brexit plans, just 10 days after his humiliating defeat at the hands of the Supreme Court.

The highest civil court in Scotland will hear an action requesting it to require the prime minister to seek an extension of Brexit negotiations to avoid crashing out of the EU without a deal.

The hearing in the Outer House of Edinburgh’s Court of Session will move on next week to the court’s Inner House, which will be asked to use its unique powers to appoint an official to sign the letter to Brussels if Mr Johnson refuses.

And the court will be asked to indicate that it is ready and able to impose penalties – including fines or even prison – on the prime minister if he refuses to comply with the Benn Act, passed by parliament last month, which requires him to seek an Article 50 extension if he fails to secure a deal with parliamentary backing by 19 October.

The case is being brought by Scottish National Party MP Joanna Cherry and barrister Jolyon Maugham – the same team behind the action which won a ruling from the court last month that Mr Johnson’s suspension of parliament was unlawful – along with millionaire environmentalist businessman Vince Dale.

They are taking advantage of a procedure known as “nobile officium”, available only to the Edinburgh court, which enables the court to take urgent action to uphold the law in exceptional or unforeseen circumstances.

The petitioners will argue that a prime minister’s refusal to obey the law would be just such an exceptional circumstance, and will urge the court to empower one of its own officials to sign the letter requesting an extension on behalf of the UK.

Ms Cherry said: “We are less than 30 days away from the Brexit deadline and the rhetoric and actions of Boris Johnson carry all the hallmarks of a government pushing ahead towards a catastrophic no-deal Brexit – which we know will hit the economy, cost thousands of jobs and harm people’s livelihoods.

“Like much of what Boris Johnson says, there is a gulf of truth between the obvious facts of the matter and what he and his government have been saying.

“He cannot be trusted, and this court action is about ensuring he abides by the law. If Boris Johnson tries to defy the law and defy both the Holyrood and Westminster parliaments by crashing out of the EU without a deal – then we are calling on the Scottish courts to uphold the law.

“Last week, the UK Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Johnson’s attempt to shut down parliament was unlawful, void and of no effect. He must be reminded that he is not above the law.”

Lady Hale delivers the verdict of the Supreme Court last week (PA)

Mr Maugham added: “This is a very simple case. Our supreme parliament – elected from 46 million – has directed the prime minister – elected from 160,000 – to seek an extension. That is the law, and no man or woman is above it.”

No ruling in the case is expected before next week.

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