British MPs prepare court action to enforce Brexit delay

MPs ready for legal fight over possible delay to UK's exit from EU with PM Johnson non-committal over new Brexit bill.

    Johnson has pledged to take UK out of EU by October 31, with or without a divorce deal [File: Alberto Pezzali/AP]
    Johnson has pledged to take UK out of EU by October 31, with or without a divorce deal [File: Alberto Pezzali/AP]

    British legislators are preparing legal action in case Prime Minister Boris Johnson tries to defy legislation compelling him to seek a further delay to Brexit, main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has said.

    The BBC reported on Saturday that legislators, including MPs expelled this week from Johnson's ruling Conservative Party for backing the cross-party bill, had lined up a legal team and were willing to go to court to enforce the legislation if necessary.

    The bill will force Johnson to ask the European Union to postpone Brexit by October 19 unless parliament has signed off on a withdrawal deal or a no-deal exit. 

    The UK is currently scheduled to depart the bloc on October 31, a deadline Johnson has repeatedly promised to stick to whether a divorce deal is in place or not.

    Corbyn said Labour was not, as a party, taking legal action but was aware of the legislators' manoeuvres over the issue.

    "We need a clear statement from the prime minister that he is going to abide by that act of parliament," Corbyn told the BBC.

    The legislation was passed by both chambers of parliament this week, with Queen Elizabeth II expected to sign it into law on Monday.

    'This is ridiculous'

    Johnson said this week he would "rather be dead in a ditch" than ask for a "pointless delay" to Brexit, raising fears among opponents he may attempt to ignore the legislation.

    On Saturday, the UK's Daily Telegraph newspaper reported he was prepared to defy parliament's instruction to request an extension on Brexit if he failed to agree on a new deal with the bloc. The newspaper quoted the prime minister as saying he was only bound "in theory" by the new legislation.

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    Dominic Grieve, a former attorney general and one of 21 Conservative MPs expelled from the party this week, said Johnson was unfit for office.

    "This is ridiculous, it's shaming, it's like a four-year-old having a tantrum," Grieve told Sky News.

    A former UK director of public prosecutions (DPP) added that Johnson could face prison if he refuses to delay Brexit in the face of court action.

    "In conventional cases... individuals who are in contempt of court and fail to purge their contempt are liable to be committed to prison," Ken MacDonald, who served as DPP from 2003 to 2008 and now sits in the UK's upper chamber House of Lords, told Sky News.

    Election looms

    Johnson, a leader of the campaign to leave the EU during the 2016 Brexit referendum, took office in July after Conservative Party predecessor Theresa May quit following three failed attempts to get a deal with Brussels through parliament.

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    Following his defeat over the delay bill in parliament, he said the only solution to the Brexit impasse is a new election.

    Johnson wants a poll to take place on October 15, with his administration keen to try and win a mandate for quitting the EU by the end of October.

    Two-thirds of MPs in the lower chamber House of Commons would need to back an early election, but opposition parties, including Labour, have pledged to vote against or abstain on this until the law to force Johnson to seek a Brexit delay is implemented.

    Johnson failed to win enough support in a vote on Wednesday for an election. Another vote is scheduled for Monday.

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    SOURCE: News agencies