LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Boris Johnson lost influence over Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union on Monday when a law came into force demanding he delay Brexit until 2020 unless he can strike a divorce deal at an EU summit next month.
It was unclear what Johnson’s next move in the Brexit crisis would be: while the law will oblige him to seek a delay unless he can strike a new deal, EU leaders have repeatedly said they have received no specific proposals.
As Johnson tries to break the deadlock in London, he will ask parliament a second time for an early general election but is likely to be defeated in a vote at around 2230 GMT on Monday. He will then suspend parliament until Oct. 14.
Boris Johnson's government has suffered another humiliating Commons defeat, as MPs ordered the release of internal communications between the prime minister's top advisers over the decision to suspend parliament.
The emergency motion - passed by 311 to 302 - means the government will also be forced to publish its no-deal planning documents under Operation Yellowhammer.
Put forward by the ex-Tory MP Dominic Grieve, the motion orders ministers to surrender the documents by Wednesday and includes the private communications of Mr Johnson's chief-of-staff, Dominic Cummings.
They are demanding “all correspondence, whether formal or informal in both written and electronic form” relating to the prorogation sent since the day before Mr Johnson’s arrival in office on 24 July.
And their emergency motion makes clear this should include messages sent via the WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Telegram and Signal apps, by text or iMessage and from “private email accounts both encrypted and unencrypted”.
Mr Grieve told the Commons during the debate: "The House is about to be prorogued for five weeks, two weeks after we return is the anticipated date on which we are going to leave the European Union.
"There is much which is left undebated and, in particular, we are not going to have an opportunity to ask necessary questions of the government both in relation to its own prepared documents under Yellowhammer, which it has prepared for its own use in relation to the risks of a no deal.
"And, in addition to that, we are not going to have the opportunity to ask what I think are the necessary and unfortunately searching questions about the government's motives in proroguing this House and the potential difference between what they have said in public in this matter and what the evidence suggests is the reality."
But Mr Gove called attempts by MPs to compel the Government to publish documents relating to Operation Yellowhammer and communications relating to prorogation a fishing expedition.
He said: "This is a fishing expedition where every single communication to do with prorogation is being sought and it takes a coach and horses through our data protection legislation."
Refusing to take interventions from opposition backbenchers, Mr Gove added: "Their desire to rifle through private correspondences of advisers is to set aside legal precedent and the rights of citizens."
19:51 Andrew Sparrow
That was Boris Johnson’s fourth main defeat in a Commons vote since he became prime minister. The other defeats were: on the Oliver Letwin motion allowing time for the Benn bill, on the Benn bill at second and third reading and on holding an early election. The final vote counted as a defeat, because Johnson did not get the required two-thirds majority, although technically he won, because more MPs voted in favour than against.
But what does it mean?
Humble addresses are considered binding on the government. This vote means the government is now obliged to release to the Commons:
1) all private messages sent between nine advisers, including Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s de facto chief of staff, including text and WhatsApp messages and private emails, sent from 23 July relating to the prorogation of parliament.
2) all the documents prepared within Her Majesty’s government since 23 July 2019 relating to operation Yellowhammer and submitted to the cabinet or a cabinet committee.
The material is meant to be handed over by 11 September.
However, it does not seem likely that the government will comply. The Commons will not even by sitting on Wednesday. Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, told MPs that some version of the Operation Yellowhammer document would be published anyway. But during the debate Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, suggested that the government would not have the legal power to enforce the release of the messages even if it wanted to comply. (See 5.51pm.)
Last year Labour used the humble address mechanism to require the publication of the attorney general’s legal advice about the withdrawal agreement. The government initially ignored the request, and it only complied a month later when MPs passed another motion finding the government in contempt of parliament.
In this case no such contempt motion will be passed any time soon, because after tonight the Commons will not be sitting until 14 October.
And even if it were passed, a contempt motion on its own would not force Boris Johnson’s government to comply. Theresa May’s government did, but May respected the authority of parliament. Johnson’s administration seems much more contemptuous of it.
On other issues MPs and campaigners have threatened legal action, or gone to court, to ensure that Johnson complies with their wishes. But this vote is not a matter of legislation. It is a Commons procedural matter, and so it is hard to see on what basis the courts could intervene.
David Cameron has robustly defended his decision to call a referendum in 2016 on the UK’s membership of the EU, according to a film-maker producing a documentary about his time in 10 Downing Street.
Denys Blakeway, a leading British political film producer, conducted a series of interviews with Cameron for a two-part documentary on his time in power, which will be released at the same time as his memoirs later this month.
The former prime minister is defiant about calling the vote on Brexit and insists he did his best for the country, according to the film-maker.
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LONDON (Reuters) - Britain is not seeking to negotiate a Northern Ireland-only backstop arrangement, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said on Tuesday, damping down expectations that the leader may turn to a previously-discarded idea to solve a Brexit impasse.
Officials in Brussels say that to get a Brexit deal done, Johnson may need to go back to the plan, which involves applying different border rules to Northern Ireland from the rest of the country to help keep goods flowing across the Irish border.
“We are not seeking a Northern Ireland-only backstop,” the spokesman said.
Johnson will meet leaders of the Democratic Unionist Party, the Northern Irish party which supports his government, later on Tuesday to discuss Brexit.
It is unclear how Johnson plans to proceed at this point. Despite the law against a no-deal Brexit, he has made quite clear he has no intention of requesting another delay from the EU. In fact, last week he outright vowed that he would not do so, telling reporters that he'd rather be "dead in a ditch."
If Johnson follows through on that pledge, another showdown with Parliament — as well as a legal challenge — could be in the offing. Several lawmakers have already warned him against it.
"Be careful," Ian Blackford, leader of the opposition Scottish National Party, told Johnson. "You occupy the highest office in the land. And what you're demonstrating to the people of the United Kingdom is that the law doesn't matter."
•The spokesman confirmed that the government intended to publish a revised version of the government’s Operational Yellowhammer report about what might happen in the event of a no-deal Brexit. But he refused to say any more about how the government would respond to yesterday’s Commons vote saying the government should publish all documents relating to Yellowhammer, as well as private messages from nine government aides relating to prorogation. He said the government would respond to the vote in due course. But he also said the request for private messages was disproportionate and unprecedented
• The spokesman dismissed suggestions that Johnson is considering a Northern Ireland-only backstop. (See 9.58am.) The spokesman said: We are not seeking a Northern Ireland-only backstop.”
• The spokesman confirmed that Johnson would not be attending a hearing with the liaison committee tomorrow. Sarah Wollaston, the committee’s chair, thought she had an understanding with Johnson that he would appear on Wednesday and yesterday she wrote to him asking if that hearing could go ahead, regardless of prorogation (which means committees can no longer hold formal parliamentary hearings). But the spokesman said that Johnson would be offering an alternative debate. He said committees don’t meet while parliament is prorogued.
• The spokesman suggested that Johnson would be holding more meetings with EU leaders soon. There are reports today saying the PM will go to Brussels next week. Asked about this, the spokesman said Johnson would be speaking with other EU leaders in the coming weeks and that his travel plans would be announced in the usual way (ie, nearer the time). He also said David Frost, the PM’s chief Brexit adviser, would be in Brussels for talks with the EU’s Brexit team tomorrow and on Friday.
• The spokesman said that a new minister for women and equalities would be appointed soon to replace Amber Rudd, who resigned at the weekend. Rudd has already been replaced in her capacity as work and pensions secretary by Thérèse Coffey.
• The spokesman confirmed that Johnson would meet Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds, leader and deputy leader of the DUP, in Downing Street this afternoon.
• The spokesman confirmed that Johnson would meet Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds, leader and deputy leader of the DUP, in Downing Street this afternoon.
Phil Hogan, Ireland’s European commissioner, has been given the trade portfolio under the new president of the European commission, Ursula von der Leyen, it has been announced today. He has been commissioner for agriculture.
This means he will be the EU chief trade negotiator, and will take the lead in negotiating the details of a trade deal with the UK after Brexit.
If the UK had a choice (it didn’t), Hogan might not be the candidate Boris Johnson would choose. He has been more critical of the UK’s Brexit stance than other European commissioners, giving a speech last month describing Johnson as an “unelected PM” who was “gambling with peace”. As trade commissioner, Hogan is there to represent the EU, not Ireland. But if it ever gets to the point where the UK will be hoping for the EU to downplay Irish concerns in the negotiations, Hogan is not likely to be cooperative.
But, on the plus side, Hogan is sounding more positive about the prospects of there being a Brexit deal than he was last month. In an interview with the Irish Times he said the penny was “finally dropping” in the UK.
EU trade commissioner nominee believes probability of deal is rising
“The penny is finally dropping” with the UK on Brexit, Phil Hogan predicts with new confidence. The probability of a deal is rising, he insists.
The Irish Agriculture Commissioner, who has today been nominated to take over the EU trade portfolio in which he will play a key role in the next phase of talks, points optimistically to the revival of the idea of an all-Ireland backstop. The idea was dropped from the original Withdrawal Agreement by then British prime minister Theresa May under pressure from unionists, but her successor Boris Johnson appears to be re-examining all-Ireland based solutions.
“Mr Johnson has made a proposal in the last few days talking about an all-Ireland food zone,” Hogan told The Irish Times in an interview after his nomination. “That is certainly a clear indication of divergence between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the EU and the rest of the UK. This is the first time that this has been spoken about by a British prime minister where they are prepared to accept some level of divergence between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
“If we can build on that we certainly might get closer to one another in terms of a possible outcome,” he says.
There is some way to go, he admits, insisting that the EU would not accept a partial backstop. “It would have to include all goods . . . in terms of any agreement,” he says.
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DUBLIN (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told his Northern Ireland allies that he is opposed to the idea of a so-called Northern Ireland-only backstop to get a Brexit deal done, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster said on Tuesday.
After meeting with Johnson, Foster said he had confirmed his commitment to securing a deal which “works for the entire United Kingdom as well as our neighbors in the Republic of Ireland”, whose border with British-run Northern Ireland will be the only future land frontier between the European Union and the UK after Brexit.
“History teaches us that any deal relating to Northern Ireland which cannot command cross community support is doomed to failure. That is why the Northern Ireland backstop is flawed,” Foster said in a statement.
SCOTLAND'S highest civil court has ruled Boris Johnson's decision to suspend Parliament for five weeks ahead of Brexit was unlawful.
There were gasps when the decision was read out at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.
The UK Government will appeal the decision to the UK Supreme Court for a definitive ruling.
The ruling by Scotland's highest civil court that it was illegal to shut the UK Parliament is - in the true sense of the word - extraordinary.
Normally courts do not intervene in the decisions of the government, using the principle of a "margin of appreciation," which gives ministers more leeway under the law that ordinary people or organisations would have.
So the fact that all three judges at the Court of Session have - albeit by different routes - arrived at the decision that they can intervene is highly significant.
Stephen Tierney, professor of Constitutional Theory at Edinburgh University, believed the significance of this judgement would be felt not only in the short term but in the longer term also.
He explained: "The normal view of the courts is that it would not be appropriate to rule on the exercise of prerogative power.
"So the long-term significance of this ruling is very important."
"The lower court had said the actions of the executive were 'non-justiciable' - meaning they were not to be examined by judges.
"But this decision indicates the courts are more prepared than many people had expected to intervene in government actions."
Jim Cormack, a constitutional law expert at lawyers Pinsent Mason in Edinburgh said: "The judges have decided this was a clear case in which the government had stepped outside of the normal room for manoeuvre it is allowed by the courts, when it gave its advice to HM the Queen.
He added: "This decision of the Scottish appeal court radically changes the legal landscape ahead of an expected hearing before the United Kingdom Supreme Court next week."
Why did Scotland's judges get involved?
This case was brought in a Scottish court because at the time the High Court in England was on holiday.
But that does not diminish the effect of the ruling, as the case was against the actions of the Westminister government which, within the devolution settlement, affects the whole of the UK.
So the ruling in Edinburgh is binding on the UK government - although this is by no means the end of the legal battle since the case will now be appealed to the UK Supreme Court which will make a definitive decision.
It is also likely to hear arguments arising from decisions in similar cases brought at the High Court in London under English law and the Northern Ireland High Court.
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Documents warning of food, fuel and medicine shortages after a no-deal Brexit should be kept secret because they will scare people, a government minister says.
Andrea Leadsom, the business secretary, signalled Boris Johnson will defy parliament’s order to release the Operation Yellowhammer dossier – arguing the public was better left in the dark.
“I actually do not think that it serves people well to see what is the absolutely worst thing that can happen,” Ms Leadsom said.
She then downplayed the risks set out by civil servants – of delays at ports of up to two-and-a-half days and disruption lasting three months – to akin to the small danger of being knocked over by a car.
“The worst thing that could happen to me is I could walk out of here and get run over,” she told the BBC’s Breakfast Time programme.
“It is not a prediction, but it is something that could happen and simply putting out there all of the possible permutations of what could happen actually just serves to concern people – whereas what the government is doing is working flat out to ensure that in all circumstances, including in the event of no-deal, that we have a smooth transition for the United Kingdom.”
Two hours after the Scottish appeal court ruled that Boris Johnson’s advice to the Queen to suspend parliament was “unlawful”, three of the most senior English judges explained why they had come to a diametrically opposed conclusion.
Last week, the lord chief justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon, the master of the rolls, Sir Terence Etherton, and the president of the Queen’s bench division, Dame Victoria Sharp, dismissed the challenge by the legal campaigner and businesswoman Gina Miller.
On Wednesday, the judges gave the full reasons for that decision in a 24-page judgment, which concluded with sentence: “In our view, the decision of the prime minister to advise Her Majesty the Queen to prorogue parliament is not justiciable in Her Majesty’s courts.”
The judges said: “The refusal of the courts to review political questions is well established … The prime minister’s decision that parliament should be prorogued at the time and for the duration chosen and the advice given to Her Majesty to do so in the present case were political. They were inherently political in nature and there are no legal standards against which to judge their legitimacy.”
There was also a practical difficulty for the courts to determine when to intervene, the judges noted. “All of these arguments face the insuperable difficulty that it is impossible for the court to make a legal assessment of whether the duration of the prorogation was excessive by reference to any measure. There is no legal measure of the length of time between parliamentary sessions,” they said.
Lord Pannick QC, who represented Gina Miller, had tried to overcome those problems by ”advancing a novel and sophisticated argument resting on parliamentary sovereignty”, they acknowledged.
But, they continued: “The expanded concept has been fashioned to invite the judicial arm of the state to exercise hitherto unidentified power over the executive branch of the state in its dealings with parliament.
“The constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom have evolved to achieve a balance between the three branches of the state; and the relationship between the executive and parliament is governed in part by statute and in part by convention … This is territory into which the courts should be slow indeed to intrude by recognising an expanded concept of parliamentary sovereignty.”
The starkly divergent conclusions of the English and Scottish courts are due to be resolved in a series of supreme court hearings next week. Northern Ireland’s judges are due to deliver their decision on a similar application on Thursday morning.
UK PM Johnson repeats pledge to ditch Irish backstop
LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday he would continue to insist that the so-called backstop - a clause relating to the Irish border - is removed from any exit deal he agrees with the European Union.
“The backstop is going to be removed I very much hope, I insist, because that’s the only way to get a deal,” Johnson said during a broadcast on Facebook.
“The crucial thing to understand that we will not accept ... a Northern Ireland-only backstop, that simply doesn’t work for the UK. We’ve got to come out whole and entire and solve the problems of the Northern Irish border and I am absolutely certain that we can do that.”
He also repeated his promise to leave the EU on Oct. 31, with or without an exit deal.