Is Boris Johnson on course to request an Article 50 extension within the fortnight? The Court of Session, Scotland’s highest court, has today dismissed a legal effort to force Johnson to comply with the law (dubbed ‘surrender act’ in No. 10) aimed at making the government seek a Brexit extension in the event of a no deal. Only the reason the judge in question ruled that there was no need for ‘coercive orders’ against the UK government is that he said there could be ‘no doubt’ that the prime minister had already agreed to abide by the law – after government documents submitted to the Court of Session said the prime minister would send a letter asking for an extension to Article 50 if he fails to secure a new agreement with Brussels by 19 October.
Given that an agreement with Brussels looks increasingly unlikely, all the signs point to the government seeking an extension by October 19, the date by which the law dictates it must be requested by. Yet despite this, Johnson remains adamant that the UK is leaving the EU by October 31st – deal or no deal. He has previously said he would rather ‘die in a ditch’ than request a Brexit delay.
Conservative MPs – and multiple ministers – are among those currently scratching their heads as to how Johnson can comply with the law and ensure the UK leaves by October 31. Many are pessimistic that it’s possible and think an extension is coming. One cabinet minister tells me that they believe No. 10 also expects the extension – it’s just that they know think they can survive it electorally if it is forced by others.
Even if an extension is coming, it’s in the interests of the government to fight it as much as they can. However, were Johnson to refuse to comply and the matter to be referred to the Supreme Court, there’s a reasonable chance that a number of his Cabinet would resign in protest. Others are placing their hope on an unknown loophole which would give the government enough wriggle room to avoid it temporarily before the whole saga played out in court. Requesting an extension is politically dangerous for Johnson. It follows that it’s hard to envisage a situation where Johnson does so without a struggle before 19 October.