New deal or no deal – but no delay

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will write to the European Union later this month asking for the Brexit to be postponed until after the current deadline of 31 October. We know this for two indisputable reasons.

British law requires him to request a postponement.

Members of the British House of Commons passed a law last month, the “Benn Act.” It is intended to oblige the Prime Minister to request a postponement of the deadline of 31 October if he fails to reach an agreement with the EU by 19 October.

That deadline is in less than two weeks, and there is little evidence that the EU and the UK are close to agreeing on a deal. The most recent Johnson proposals have been rejected by the Irish government, other European leaders and several leading EU officials in Brussels. A high-ranking source at the British government announced on Wednesday that an agreement with the EU is now “impossible”.

That means that no agreement will be reached before October 19, and that the Benn Act will apply. According to the law, Johnson must personally write to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, requesting a postponement until midnight on January 31, 2020.

In recent weeks, reports have appeared in the British press based on anonymous sources of government, suggesting that Johnson will try to escape from the obligation to send the letter or otherwise sabotage the letter.

However, there is no evidence that that is possible, or that he intends. Public statements by Johnson and his cabinet show no intention to break the law. It seems that he will comply with the law.

Boris Johnson has already acknowledged that he will send the letter.

In recent days, Johnson has maintained on Twitter that “no delay” will come from Brexit. Anonymous sources of government maintain that procrastination will somehow be averted.

However, there is a simple reason that those statements remain anonymous: they are not true.

Johnson’s government lawyers acknowledged to a judge in Scotland last week that if no agreement is reached by October 19, he will have no choice but to send the letter. The lawyers have admitted that the prime minister will obey the law and write to Tusk. A Scottish court confirmed on Monday that it would expect the prime minister to comply with the law.

It is possible that the prime minister will return to his commitment and break the law by refusing to request a postponement. But even if he tries, the British Supreme Court would intervene to ensure that he meets his legal obligations.

There is also a chance that the EU will refuse to grant a deferment. But based on what the Irish government and other EU leaders have said in recent weeks, that is unlikely.

If the UK leaves the EU without agreement, European leaders want the decision to be fully borne by the UK.

Boris Johnson has said that he would rather be found “dead in a ditch” than to postpone the Brexit. “Under no circumstances” he wants to ask for a delay, says the prime minister. But when it comes down to it, the law and judgments of Johnson’s legal team suggest that he will get down next week and ask for a third time to postpone British withdrawal from the EU.

Johnson’s only alternative is to resign as prime minister. Then opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn or another who is able to form a government would replace him and request an extension. As things stand now, that is unlikely.

Instead, it seems that Johnson, with a view to impending elections, hopes that he can blame his opponents for the potential delay.

He then hopes to achieve a majority in the British House of Commons during the elections. The latter is ultimately his main goal. Statements from government sources that claim otherwise say more about Johnson’s attempts to put the blame for procrastination on others than serious attempts to prevent procrastination.

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