Brexit Latest: Forget The 'Blame Game' - This Is Where The UK Currently Stands

Politics, but without all the shouting.

Shortly before midday on Tuesday, politicians across Europe began a finger-pointing exercise of continental proportions after Downing Street claimed the EU had made a Brexit deal “impossible”.

Sources close to Boris Johnson laid the blame solely at the feet of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom they claimed had made clear that an agreement was now “overwhelmingly unlikely”.

Cue much shouting on Twitter from politicians of all stripes.

Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer said the comments were a “cynical” attempt by No 10 to “sabotage” negotiations with the EU.

Nigel Farage went all Braveheart and said it was “time to choose freedom”.

Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, told Johnson to stop playing “some stupid blame game” – before immediately blaming him for the current impasse.

But leaving aside all the noise, mud-slinging and generally tedious antics of our elected officials, the basic situation remains largely unchanged: The PM has maintained his position that the UK is leaving the EU on October 31, deal or no deal, while opposition MPs are working to force him to request an extension if a deal cannot be reached in time.

Oh, and there’s a slight chance we could end up in a situation where the Supreme Court once again decides what happens.

Here’s where things currently stand.

What’s the latest from Brussels?

Regardless of the contents of Merkel’s call with Johnson, we already knew EU leaders weren’t satisfied with what the UK was proposing – on Friday evening member states agreed they “do not provide a basis for concluding an agreement”.

MPs have given Johnson a deadline of October 19 to agree a Brexit deal with the EU or ask for a delay to the UK’s exit until January 2020.

<strong>Prime Minister Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, ahead of talks to try to break the Brexit deadlock. </strong>
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, ahead of talks to try to break the Brexit deadlock.
PA Wire/PA Images

What about the Benn Act?

Last month’s passing of the so-called Benn Act forces Johnson to ask for an extension to Article 50 to avoid a no-deal exit on October 31.

On Monday, legal action aimed at forcing Johnson to send a letter requesting an extension was dismissed by a Court of Session in Edinburgh, after judges accepted the PM’s lawyers’ assurances that he would do just that.

But the manoeuvring from Downing Street has led critics to believe Johnson is planning to somehow bypass the law.

What manoeuvring?

For a start, the PM’s tweets. He has repeatedly stated “no delay” regardless of whether or not he can strike a deal with the EU.

In addition, on Tuesday the government released its “No-Deal Readiness Report”.

Although it reiterates that the government would prefer to leave the EU with a deal and says “will work to the final hour to achieve one”, it’s difficult to view this as anything other than an acknowledgement that a no-deal Brexit on October 31 is increasingly likely.

But... what about the Benn Act?

Johnson has already said he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than ask for a delay as specified by the Benn Act. But just how he’s going to circumvent the law is currently a mystery.

Chancellor Sajid Javid joked at the Conservative party conference that there could be more than five ways around the Benn Act, and other cabinet ministers have hinted there may be a way of wriggling out of it, PA Media reports.

1) EU law supremacy?

Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg told a fringe event at the Tory conference that “Article 50 and EU law overrides the Benn Act”.

As Article 50 is outlined in EU law, this could, if Rees-Mogg’s assessment is correct, supersede the Benn Act.

2) Ask Brussels to reject an extension

Johnson could fulfil the pledge to request an extension if a deal is not agreed by October 19, and then reject it.

It is thought he could do this by sending a second letter making clear the government does not want a delay. He could also veto the extension – or ask another member state to veto on his behalf, although he isn’t exactly on the best terms with them at the moment.

3) A loophole in the law

In a speech last week, former prime minister Sir John Major said Johnson could use “political chicanery” and act “in flagrant defiance of parliament”.

Major said a legal mechanism called an Order of Council could be used to suspend the law prohibiting a no-deal Brexit until after October 31, by which time it would be redundant as the UK would have already left the EU.

4) Use a different loophole on the law

Use an Order in Council under the Civil Contingencies Act which allows the government to suspend laws to deal with an emergency.

5) Trick MPs

Persuade MPs to vote for a deal, but then don’t allow them to vote for the legislation implementing it.

Where does the Supreme Court come into it?

On Sunday, the Telegraph reported that Johnson was prepared to go to the Supreme Court in order to avoid having to write a letter asking for a delay to Brexit, as stipulated by the Benn Act.

This extraordinary situation would see Lady Hale and her fellow justices potentially having the final say how and when the UK leaves the EU.

In such a scenario, Johnson would have to give evidence to the court explaining his decision, and government sources have said it is vital for him to be seen to be forced to write the letter rather than doing so voluntarily.

One source said: “The real drama would be if Boris Johnson were in court calling it the ‘Surrender Act’. He would almost be happy if the judge said ‘you can’t call it that’.”

The Supreme Court has already dealt Johnson one huge blow when last month it ruled that his controversial decision to suspend parliament was unlawful.