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PM won’t be forced to extend Brexit by post

Doing the rounds: Boris Johnson chats to staff at Watford General Hospital PICTURE: PA

BORIS JOHNSON will be spared a court order designed to force him to request a Brexit extension if he can’t get a deal after a judge accepted he had already pledged to do so.

Campaigners tried to get the order made amid fears the prime minister would try to thwart the Benn Act, requiring him to write to the EU to ask for a delay unless a deal is agreed by parliament before October 19.

But after hearing arguments at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, Lord Pentland ruled the government had already given ‘unequivocal assurances’ to the court that it would ‘comply with the act’ and ‘would not seek to frustrate its purpose’.

The judge did warn Mr Johnson, who yesterday met staff and patients during a visit to Watford General Hospital, that, if he failed to abide by the act, it could damage the ‘mutual trust’ between courts and MPs.

Businessman Dale Vince, SNP MP Joanna Cherry QC and Jolyon Maugham QC launched the legal action and will now appeal against the judge’s decision at the court’s inner house, at a hearing expected to take place today.

After the ruling, Mr Maugham said: ‘I very much hope the court is right… but there is very real doubt in my mind that the government will act in accordance with the law.’ Mr Johnson, Downing Street sources and cabinet ministers have all repeatedly asserted that Britain will leave the EU on October 31 whatever happens.

But documents submitted to the court on behalf of the prime minister on Friday revealed he accepted he must send a letter under the terms set out in the Benn Act. They also showed No.10 accepted it cannot attempt to ‘frustrate’ the legislation.

Andrew Webster QC, representing the government, argued this should be enough for the court to be satisfied Mr Johnson would be true to his word.

But Aidan O’Neill QC, representing the petitioners, claimed Mr Johnson’s previous statements, particularly that he would rather be ‘dead in a ditch’ than send the letter, go against what he has said in legal submissions.

Meanwhile, European leaders have been urging the government to provide ‘more realism and clarity’ over its Brexit deal offer. Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok said ‘important questions still remain’ after meeting Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay.

Britain is keen for more high-level talks with EU leaders before the crunch October 17 Brexit summit. But Mr Johnson was yet to secure any sit-down meetings. ‘We are ready to talk with the EU at pace to secure a deal,’ said his spokesman James Slack.