Minister refuses to rule out ‘second letter’ gambit cancelling Brexit extension request

Baroness Hayter was not reassured by Lord Callanan's reply to her question about the Article 50 exte

Baroness Hayter was not reassured by Lord Callanan's reply to her question about the Article 50 extension. Picture: Parliament TV - Credit: Parliament TV

A Brexit minister has refused to say that the government won't follow up a letter requesting an extension to Article 50 with another one asking the EU to disregard it.

The House of Lords sought reassurance that the prime minister would truly honour the act passed by parliament compelling him to request an Article 50 extension if he has not secured a deal with the EU before October 19.

Rumours have circulated that Boris Johnson could circumvent this obligation by following this request with a second letter saying, as Baroness Hayter put it: "but please don't say yes".

Responding to the baroness' query, Lord Callanan refused to rule this measure out despite being asked twice in the House of Lords.

The Brexit minister firstly said: "We will of course, as the noble lady expects, abide by the law."

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But given that a second letter would technically be legal, this did not satisfy the lords.

Lord Harris of Haringey followed up, saying: "I am not sure that the noble lord, the minister, has actually answered my noble friend the Lady Hayter's question.

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"We of course assume that the government will abide by the law. But her question was: would a second letter be sent, saying 'please' to the EU, 'please don't accept our request'.

"Can he give a categorical assurance that the government will not do that and will not seek to go around the wording of the law which was passed by this house?"

But Callanan was again evasive, repeating the government will abide by the law and adding: "We write all sorts of letters to all sorts of people all of the time. I'm sure letter-writing will continue even in no-deal. And I can go no further than repeat what I say, that of course we are a law-abiding government and we will abide by it."

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