Senior figures from Boris Johnson’s own party have warned him not to break the law after the Prime Minister said he wouldn’t extend the UK’s Brexit deadline despite legislation blocking a no-deal Brexit being passed this week.
And a leading Scottish Tory MSP has broken ranks to declare that Johnson must resign if he refuses to seek an extension from Brussels to avoid the UK exiting the EU without a deal.
Adam Tomkins, the Scottish Conservative constitution spokesman and a former professor of law, tweeted yesterday morning: “Irrespective of what we think about Brexit, or the PM, surely we can all agree on one fundamental principle: the government is bound to obey the law.
“If the law compels the PM to act in a certain way, and if the PM refuses so to act, he has only one option: to resign his ministry. It really is as simple as that.”
Lord MacDonald, the former Director of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales from 2003 to 2008, warned Johnson could be found in contempt of court and face a possible jail sentence if he refused to obey the terms of the bill, which is set to receive Royal Assent tomorrow.
A cross-party group of MPs are reported to be preparing a legal challenge if the Prime Minister defies Parliament.
On a visit to Scotland on Friday, Johnson stood firm in his opposition to any Brexit delay beyond 31 October, after having earlier said he would “rather be dead in a ditch” than ask the EU for an extension.
The Prime Minister is reported to have written to Tory members on Friday evening telling them: “They just passed a law that would force me to beg Brussels for an extension to the Brexit deadline. This is something I will never do.”
The SNP’s deputy leader in Westminster, Kirsty Blackman, said: “Boris Johnson must make clear he will respect the law, respect democracy and take the threat of a catastrophic no-deal Brexit off the table. If he cannot, he must resign.
“With Westminster in crisis and Tory splits deepening, the question is – if the Prime Minister’s own party cannot tolerate his government, why should Scotland be expected to?”
MPs in Westminster voted in favour of a bill that compels the Prime Minister to ask the EU for the Brexit deadline to be extended beyond 31 October if no deal is agreed by the UK and Brussels by 19 October.
Dominic Grieve, one of 21 Conservative rebels who had the whip removed after voting in favour of the legislation and a former Attorney General, said Johnson “would be ordered to send the letter [requesting an extension] and, if he didn’t send the letter, he would be sent to prison for contempt”.
Johnson was also defeated in his attempts to call a general election, failing to muster the two-thirds majority of the House of Commons required under the Fixed Terms Parliament Act. A cross-party group of MPs is preparing to challenge the government in the courts if the Prime Minister refuses to seek an extension to the UK’s Brexit deadline.
It was reported yesterday that cross-party MPs, including expelled Conservatives, had sought legal advice and were preparing to go to court “to compel Mr Johnson to seek a delay”.
David Lidington, the de facto deputy prime minister when Theresa May was in Downing Street, said it would set a “dangerous precedent” if Johnson opted to disobey the law over Brexit.
The Prime Minister reportedly said he would only have to comply with the opposition’s law blocking no-deal in “theory”.
But Lidington, a former Europe minister, told the BBC’s Today programme: “The government is bound by the words of any statue that has been duly enacted by the Queen and Parliament.
“It is such a fundamental principle that we are governed by the rule of law that I hope no party would question it.
“Defying any particular law sets a really dangerous precedent. If you do something in government, you also need to also think ‘would I be happy if the other lot were in power and did this to me?’” Lidington said he did not think Johnson would go so far as to break the law.