Boris Johnson sends unsigned letter to EU asking for Brexit delay

19 October 2019, 22:09

Boris Johnson sent the letters to Donald Tusk on Saturday evening
Boris Johnson sent the letters to Donald Tusk on Saturday evening. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Prime Minister Boris Johnson sent three letters to the President of the European Council Donald Tusk but refused to sign the one requesting an extension.

Mr Johnson copied and pasted the wording from the Benn Act and sent a covering letter, along with a third that told the EU27 leaders he did not want a delay.

However his refusal to sign the request for an extension has been seen as an act of defiance against Parliament and could see the prime minister in court.

The text of the letter to Mr Tusk read: "I am writing therefore to inform the European Council that the United Kingdom is seeking a further extension to the period provided under Article 50.

"The United Kingdom proposes that this period should end at 11:00pm on 31 January 2020.

"Yours sincerely, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland."

The UK leader will likely face a challenge in Edinburgh's Court of Session on Monday.

Scottish courts may decide he has not complied with the spirit of the Benn Act by refusing to place his signature on the extension letter.

In the cover letter the UK's ambassador to the EU, Sir Tim Barrow, explained the government's approach would be in accordance with Parliament's wishes set out in the Benn Act.

It explained that the UK government will seek to get Boris Johnson's Withdrawal Agreement ratified.

However the third letter, sent to all 27 EU leaders, outlined Mr Johnson's wish to leave on 31 October saying any further Brexit delay would be "corrosive" and postponement would "damage the interests of the UK and our EU partners."

He wrote: "We must bring this process to a conclusion so that we can move to the next phase and build our new relationship."

Soon after the release of the letters, Mr Tusk explained that discussions regarding them will soon begin on the European side.

He tweeted: "The extension request has just arrived. I will now start consulting EU leaders on how to react."

It comes after a defiant Boris Johnson told the Commons he would not negotiate another Brexit extension with the EU despite being defeated in Parliament by 16 votes.

The UK Prime Minister wrote a separate letter to MPs and Peers on Saturday evening stressing he did not wish to extend the Brexit deadline.

"I have made clear that I do not want more delay. European leaders have made clear they do not want more delay. It is to my great regret that today the House has voted for more delay," he said.

"The public want us to get Brexit done so the country can move on. The best thing for the United Kingdom and the European Union is for us to leave with this new deal on October 31.

"I will not negotiate a delay with the European Union."

He also warned recipients the EU may reject a request from Parliament to seek an extension to Article 50.

France's presidential palace said there was nothing to be gained by prolonging Brexit, adding more delay "is in the interest of no-one."

French president Emmanuel Macron's office said: "It's now up to the British Parliament to say if it approves or rejects [the deal]. There must be a vote on the fundamentals."

Mr Tusk spoke to Mr Johnson after Saturday's vote in Parliament and tweeted saying he was "waiting for the letter."

Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said the government was planning to give MPs another chance to have a "meaningful vote" on the UK leader's deal on Monday.

However, opposition MPs were swift in declaring their plans to reject a second, similar vote with Labour's leader Jeremy Corbyn and the spokesman for Brexit in the Liberal Democrats Tom Brake both saying they would shoot it down.