Brexit: Speaker John Bercow 'is ready to sign letter' asking for extension if asked by courts or parliament

Boris Johnson facing court action on Monday if he fails to delay Brexit beyond 31 October

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Saturday 19 October 2019 16:29
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Speaker John Bercow 'ready to sign letter' asking for Article 50 extension if asked by courts or parliament

Commons Speaker John Bercow has said he is ready to sign the letter to Brussels asking for a delay to Brexit if the courts or parliament ask him to.

Boris Johnson’s dramatic declaration that he will not negotiate an Article 50 extension with the EU led to immediate threats of legal action from anti-Brexit MPs.

Scottish National Party MP Joanna Cherry, who led the successful court challenge to the prime minister’s five-week suspension of parliament, said she would go to court on Monday to seek action if Mr Johnson has not sent the letter by then.

A legal action asking Scotland’s highest court, the Court of Session in Edinburgh, to appoint an official to send the letter in the PM”s place was deferred earlier this month until Monday, to await the result of today’s vote.

Ms Cherry asked the speaker whether he would be willing to sign the letter if requested by the courts.

Mr Bercow replied: “If I were instructed by this House, I would do as instructed and if I were directed or instructed by a court, I would do as directed.”

The speaker made clear he did not anticipate receiving an order from the Scottish court, telling Ms Cherry: "I have no expectations of being so asked, and moreover I have no aspirations to the exalted status that would have been attained by a person so requested or directed by the court."

Mr Johnson sparked outrage from MPs as he told the Commons that, despite the requirement under the Benn Act for him to request an extension: “I will not negotiate a delay with the EU, and neither does the law compel me to do so.”

Ms Cherry told MPs that the government had given the Court of Session an “undertaking” that the letter would be sent if Mr Johnson failed to secure parliamentary approval for his deal by 19 October.

And she said: “Fortunately we are back in court on Monday morning. It will be possible then to secure the court’s assistance if the prime minister has flouted the law and the promises he gave to the court.”

The Court of Session has a unique power known as "nobile officium" - or "nob off" to legal insiders - which is not available to the English and Welsh courts and allows it to appoint an official in an emergency situation to carry out a mandatory responsibility which a public servant has failed to perform.

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