Prime Minister Boris Johnson has sent the European Union two letters: one asking for a yet another Brexit delay, in accordance with Parliament’s “Surrender Act”, and another saying he does not want one.
There had been a great deal of speculation around how Boris Johnson would resolve his competing claims that he would not ask for another Brexit delay — indeed, that he would “rather be dead in a ditch” — but that he would also “obey the law” in the form of the “Surrender Act”, or Benn Act, ordering him to do so if MPs did not approve a deal-based or no-deal Brexit.
In the end, the Prime Minister did send the request letter mandated by the Act to President of the European Council Donald Tusk, which reads as follows:
Dear Mr President,
The UK Parliament has passed the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019. Its provisions now require Her Majesty’s Government to seek an extension of the period provided under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union, including as applied by Article 106a of the Euratom Treaty, currently due to expire at 11 p.m. GMT on 31 October 2019, until 11 p.m. GMT on 31 January 2020.
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(3) of the Treaty on European Union, including as applied by Article 106a of the Euratom Treaty. The United Kingdom proposes that this period should end at 11 p.m. GMT on 31 January 2020. If the parties are able to ratify before this date, the Government proposes that the period should be terminated early.
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
This was accompanied by a short explanatory letter from Sir Tim Barrow, Britain’s Permanent Representative (ambassador) to the European Union, to the EU’s top bureaucrat:
As the United Kingdom Permanent Representative to the European Union, I invite your attention to the following matter.
Attached is a letter sent as required by the terms of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No.2) Act 2019.
In terms of the next steps for parliamentary process, Her Majesty’s Government will introduce the necessary legislation next week in order to proceed with ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement.
I would be grateful for your acknowledgement of receipt of this letter.
Sir Tim Barrow
The Prime Minister’s third letter outlines his position that an extension would not be in the interests of either Britain or the European Union — but accepts that the decision to grant or refuse one is now, in essence, in the European Council’s hands, and out of his:
It was good to see you again at the European Council this week where we agreed the historic new deal to permit the orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on October 31.
I am deeply grateful to you, President Juncker and to all my fellow European leaders for the statesmanship and statecraft which enabled us to achieve this historic milestone. I should also register my appreciation for Michel Barnier and his team for their imagination and diplomacy as we concluded the negotiations.
When I spoke in Parliament this morning, I noted the corrosive impact of the long delay in delivering the mandate of the British people from the 2016 referendum. I made clear that, while I believe passionately that both the UK and the EU will benefit from our decision to withdraw and develop a new relationship, that relationship will be founded on our deep respect and affection for our shared culture, civilisation, values and interests.
We will remain the EU’s closest partner and friend. The deal we approved at last week’s European Council is a good deal for the whole of the UK and the whole of the EU.
Regrettably, Parliament missed the opportunity to inject momentum into the ratification process for the new Withdrawal Agreement. The UK Parliament Representative will therefore submit the request mandated by the EU (Withdrawal) (No.2) Act 2019 later today.
It is, of course, for the European Council to decide when to consider the request and whether to grant it. In view of the unique circumstances, while I regret causing my fellow leaders to devote more of their time and energy to a question I had hoped we had resolved last week, I recognise that you may need to convene a European Council.
If it would be helpful to you, I would of course be happy to attend the start of any A50 Council so that I could answer properly any question on the position of HM Government and progress in the ratification process at that time.
Meanwhile, although I would have preferred a different result today, the Government will press ahead with ratification and introduce the necessary legislation early next week. I remain confident that we will complete that process by 31 October.
Indeed, many of those who voted against the Government today have indicated their support for the new deal and for ratifying it without delay. I know that I can count on your support and that of our fellow leaders to move the deal forward, and I very much hope therefore that on the EU side also, the process can be completed to allow the agreement to enter into force, as the European Council Conclusions mandated.
While it is open to the European Council to accede to the request mandated by Parliament or to offer an alternative extension period, I have made clear since becoming Prime Minister, and made clear to Parliament again today, my view, and the Government’s position, that a further extension would damage the interests of the UK and our EU partners, and the relationship between us.
We must bring this process to a conclusion so that we can move to the next phase and build our new relationship on the foundations of our long history as neighbours and friends in this continent our peoples share. I am passionately committed to that endeavour.
I am copying this letter to Presidents Juncker and Sassoli [of the European Commission and the European Parliament], and to members of the European Council.
Some reports have stressed that the Benn Act letter was “unsigned” — but this makes no difference to its legal effect, and the European Union has accepted it as a valid request for another Brexit delay.