What Is The Benn Act And Why Has The Government Been Taken To Court?

7 October 2019, 12:35 | Updated: 7 October 2019, 12:57

What Is The Benn Act And Why Has The Government Been Taken To Court?
What Is The Benn Act And Why Has The Government Been Taken To Court? Picture: PA

What is the Benn Act? Why have the Government been taken to court? Will Boris Johnson have to seek an extension from the EU. We have all these answers and more.

What is the Benn Act?

The Benn Act, more formally known as the EU Withdrawal (No.2) Act, is a piece of legislation presented by Labour MP Hilary Benn. Some opponents, less flatteringly, are calling it the 'Surrender Act'. It received Royal Assent on 9th September 2019.

The aim of the act is to require the Prime Minister to ask the European Union for an extension to the Article 50 negotiation period. It has the intention of preventing a no-deal Brexit on 31st October.

The Act lays out that if MPs have not approved a Brexit deal by 19th October, the Prime Minister must send a letter to the President of the European Council which actively "seeks" an extension to Article 50 until the end of January 2020.

If the EU agree to that date, the Prime Minister is expected to agree and we don't leave without a deal at the end of October.

If, however, the EU proposes an alternative date, the Prime Minister is also expected to agree to it but this is slightly more contentious.

If the EU suggests an extended exit date other than 31st January 2020, the Government can ask Parliament whether or not it approves of that proposal, and Parliament can choose to reject it.

What Is The Benn Act And Why Has The Government Been Taken To Court?
What Is The Benn Act And Why Has The Government Been Taken To Court? Picture: PA

Why has the government been taken to court?

Campaigners against a no-deal Brexit want a legal guarantee that the Prime Minister cannot ignore or manipulate the wording of the Benn Act.

To ensure this, Joanna Cherry, Jolyon Maugham and Vince Dale will ask the Court of Session in Edinburgh to make it a legal requirement that Boris Johnson asks the EU for an extension if a deal cannot be secured by 19th October.

A hearing saw campaigners try and guarantee Boris Johnson seeks an extension if no deal is reached. It was dismissed at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

A hearing on Tuesday at the Inner House will see campaigners asks judges to enforce 'nobile officium' to ensure that if Boris Johnson refuses to send the extension letter a court official would sign it.

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