Could Boris Johnson be sent to jail?
The prime minister could be held in contempt if he refuses to ask EU for Brexit extension
Boris Johnson could be held in contempt of court and sent to prison if he refuses to ask the EU for an extension to Article 50 at the end of October, a former attorney general and the director of public prosecutions have said.
The prime minister has repeatedly said he will not ask for an extension, despite legislation requiring him to do so by 19 October if a deal has not been approved by MPs set to become law today.
Opponents of the government are already looking at a legal challenge should Johnson break the law.
Lord MacDonald, who was director of public prosecutions between 2003 and 2008, said legal action would mean a court ordering that “the law should be followed” and “a refusal in the face of that would amount to contempt of court” which could “find that person in prison”.
The cross-bench peer told Sky News this was “not an extreme outcome” as it was “conventional” that individuals who refuse to “purge their contempt” are sent to prison.
Former attorney general Dominic Grieve, who was expelled from the Conservatives last week for backing the anti-no-deal law, told the broadcaster that the prime minister refuses to obey the law he will be “sent to prison for contempt”.
However, “it is also possible that a court could demand another figure in government authorises the delay” says Sky.
Former Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption also told the broadcaster there would be “plenty of ways” to enforce the law, including applying for an injunction ordering Johnson to authorise a delay or forcing another government official to sign off the extension in his place.
“He’s not going to be marched off to Pentonville Prison… it’s much less dramatic than all that”, he added.
It comes as The Daily Telegraph reports that Downing Street aides are “drawing up plans to ‘sabotage’ the EU’s structures if Brussels grants an extension against his will”.
Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s controversial chief aide, is reportedly creating a “shadow” team of advisers to work on plans to fight an expected emergency judicial review in Supreme Court next month if Johnson is unable to secure an election this week.
The Chancellor Sajid Javid, on Sunday doubled down on the prime minister’s promise, telling the BBC that Johnson would absolutely not be asking for an extension at the European Council meeting in Brussel on October 17 and 18.
Politico notes that “this would not be in breach of the legislation, which requires the prime minister to seek a delay to Brexit if no deal is place the day after the summit, October 19”, with Javid saying that at this point the government would “look at our options” but would “obey the law.”
Speaking to Sky’s Sophie Ridge, the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also did little to play down reports in the Sunday papers that Downing Street is prepared to defy MPs’ no-deal blocking legislation, even if it means being challenged in the courts.
“We will adhere to the law but we will also, because this is such a bad piece of legislation, we will also want to test to the limit what it does actually lawfully require,” he said.
He also said the Government was working hard on a revised Brexit deal with Brussels and that progress was being made, with the EU now “in principle” prepared to amend the Withdrawal Agreement.
It comes after Amber Rudd spectacularly quit the government on Saturday night in disgust at Boris Johnson’s “purge” of the party and his “failure” to pursue a deal with the EU.
In “a bombshell move that will rock the government”, the works and pensions secretary told the Sunday Times she is quitting because there is “no evidence” Johnson is seeking a deal with the EU despite claims that it is his priority.
She told the BBC’s Andrew Marr there was a “huge machine” preparing for a no-deal Brexit, which was taking up “80-90% of government time”, but when she had asked Number 10 last week for an update on the work going into the negotiations, she had been sent a one-page summary.
The French government has threatened to veto a further Brexit extension due to the “worrying” lack of progress in the recent talks, “as EU diplomats expressed their frustration at being caught up in game playing by the British government” reports The Guardian.
When asked if an extension beyond 31 October was possible, the French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, highlighted the lack of realistic proposals being put forward by Downing Street as an alternative to the Irish backstop and further warned that the EU’s patience was waning.
“We are not going to do this [extend the deadline] every three months,” he said.
In an explosive interview with the Sunday Times, Rudd also attacked the expulsion of 21 senior Tories who voted against the government last week, as “short-sighted” and “an assault on decency and democracy”.
The paper says “the resignation of Rudd, one of Johnson’s closest personal friends in the cabinet, will come as a hammer blow to the prime minister just 46 days into his premiership”.
It comes just days after the prime minister’s own brother, Jo Johnson, also quit the cabinet in protest at his handling of the Brexit negotiations.
The Mail on Sunday reported that 1,600 soldiers have been put on standby to stop a fuel shortage in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Michael Gove, whom the paper describes as Boris Johnson’s “No Deal supremo”, told a meeting of his Daily Operations Committee – known in Whitehall as the XO – that full deployment of the Forces would take 21 days, meaning the order would have to be given by October 10 if the prime minister executes his plan to leave on 31 October “do or die”.
“It comes amid growing concern in Whitehall that fuel shortages could prove to be the most disruptive consequence of a No Deal departure” says the Mail.