European Union Could Bypass Johnson to Delay Brexit

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker (C) kisses EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (R) next to European Council President Donald Tusk (L) at the end of a press conference following a special meeting of the European Council to endorse the draft Brexit withdrawal agreement and to approve the …
JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images

EU sources have said that they are willing to take any request for a Brexit delay — even if it does not come from Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Johnson sent European leaders his ‘”take it or leave it” final Brexit deal offer. The Europeans have so far signalled that the new deal, which removes the Irish backstop, is “unacceptable” and “unworkable”.

The Benn Act orders the prime minister to request another extension to Article 50 if an EU-approved deal is not passed by Parliament by October 19th. The law also stops the government from taking the UK out of the EU in a Clean-Break Brexit.

Mr Johnson has maintained that he will not seek another Brexit delay. But sources speaking to The Times suggests that civil servants and Eurocrats could circumvent the head of government to authorise another extension to January 31st, 2020.

Several senior EU diplomatic sources told the newspaper that the letter could come from “the head of government or head of state” such as a representative of the Crown, including the notoriously anti-Brexit Civil Service.

“What Article 50 says and requires is that the extension is agreed with the UK. Strictly speaking, it is silent on whether there should be a request or where the request should come from,” one source said.

Another Brussels source said: “I am sure the system will produce what we need to get to an extension.”

“We don’t care who it is, whether it is the prime minister or another representative of the executive,” they added.

Whitehall sources have also said that the letter could come from Cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill or the UK’s ambassador to the EU Sir Tim Barrow.

While Europeans were quick to communicate their disapproval of Mr Johnson’s new deal, one European ambassador said that leaders had agreed to “really look at the situation in the UK and see what the political argument would be for such a request” at the European Council meeting on October 17th. Diplomats have said that no European leader is prepared to veto an extension to force a Clean-Break Brexit.

“Politically, I don’t see how we could refuse it. The Europeans don’t want to take the responsibility for no deal,” one official said.

Media reported on Tuesday that Remain activists are taking a case to the Scottish Court of Session to force Prime Minister Johnson to request the extension if he refuses. An Outer House judge will determine on Monday whether to elevate the case to the senior chamber of the court, the Inner House.

The Court of Session may rule that if Johnson refuses to request the extension, he could face a fine or even a prison sentence.

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