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Boris Johnson faces court challenge over threat to break law and force through Brexit

Thomas Colson , Business Insider US
 Sep 10, 2019, 12:33 PM
Boris Johnson
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  • Civil rights group Liberty has launched a legal case designed to compel Boris Johnson to comply with a law forcing him to seek a Brexit delay.
  • Civil rights group Liberty launched an application for judicial review, which it would pursue unless Johnson releases a public statement agreeing not to break the law.
  • Liberty warned that a decision by any minister to evade legal obligations would have a "profoundly detrimental impact on the whole fabric of our legal system and constitutional order."
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

A civil rights group has launched a legal case designed to ensure that Boris Johnson backs down from threats to defy a law which would instruct him to avoid a no-deal Brexit in October.

Liberty brought a judicial review on Monday seeking to ensure the prime minister "upholds his obligations" under European law, warning that a decision by any minister to evade legal obligations would have a "profoundly detrimental impact on the whole fabric of our legal system and constitutional order."

The organisation said it had made the move in light of recent indications from Cabinet ministers and Downing Street sources which suggested that the government would disregard a new bill designed to prevent Johnson from carrying out his "do-or-die" pledge to leave the EU on October 31 with or without a deal.

Johnson has insisted that he would sooner "die in a ditch" than seek a delay as ordered by the legislation.

The bill was approved by MPs last week and is expected to receive Royal Assent on Monday, meaning it will pass into the statute books.

In a letter to Johnson, Liberty said it would withdraw its application for a judicial review if Johnson made a statement within two days affirming he would comply with his obligations under the new law.

Martha Spurrier, Liberty director, said: "We hope this action is unnecessary. However, we would be failing in our duty if we sit back when doubts about the execution of the law swirl over Westminster.

"It is our fierce independence which makes this a case that Liberty must lead. At a time when public faith in parliamentary process is so low, it is essential that party politics are removed from this matter. People must know that this case is not fought on party lines or that it is anything to do with Brexit.

"This case is about ensuring that the Government - whoever it is, or whatever its intention - acts within the law."

The challenge came after the former Director of Public Prosecutions said Johnson could ultimately be sent to prison if he refuses to comply with a court order to seek an extension.

Lord MacDonald said that refusal to comply with the legislation would be an offence under the law that may require jail time.

"A refusal in the face of that would amount to contempt of court which could find that person in prison," Lord MacDonald said on Sunday.

One opposition leader said on that parliament should consider impeaching Johnson in order to ensure he complies with the law.

"Plaid Cymru's Westminster leader, Liz Saville Roberts said that MPs should use the arcane procedure of impeachment if Johnson continues to refuse to seek a delay.

"No one is above the law, Boris Johnson shouldn't risk finding that out the hard way," she said.

A Downing Street spokesperson on Monday said: "The government obeys the law but the government will not be asking for an extension."

What's behind Johnson's threats?

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Downing Street sources indicated on Sunday that the prime minister - who met with Irish premier Leo Varadkar on Monday morning - planned to "sabotage" the legally-binding extension, and "take a chainsaw to anything" standing in the way of delivering Brexit on October 31.

The bill designed to stop no deal was supported by opposition MPs, as well as a handful of Conservative MPs, who moved to prevent Johnson from fulfilling his "do-or-die" pledge to leave the EU on October 31 even if he had failed to secure a deal.

David Gauke, the former justice secretary, said on Sunday evening that Downing Street's ambiguity over whether it would abide by the legislation was "damaging to the rule of law."

"I am concerned that the government seems to be allowing some ambiguity that they're unclear as to their intentions," he told BBC's Westminster Hour.

"It should be a perfectly straightforward thing for all ministers to say 'we believe in abiding by the law and that is what we will do'. And just that element of uncertainty and ambiguity as to what the government's position is, in itself, damaging to the rule of law.

In interviews on Sunday, Sajid Javid, the chancellor, and Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, both said the prime minister would obey the law, but Raab said the government would "deal with that legislation and test it very carefully."

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