Seek an extension or resign, Hilary Benn tells Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson. Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA.

Boris Johnson. Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA. - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

The senior MP behind the bill that would stop a no-deal Brexit has said Boris Johnson must seek an extension or resign.

Hilary Benn said if the prime minister does not do so then MPs will "seek remedy" before the courts.

Speaking at the Great Northern Stop Brexit rally in Leeds, Benn said Boris Johnson is not going to get his snap election and the only "right and democratic" way to resolve Brexit is through a second referendum with Remain or former PM Theresa May's Withdrawal Agreement on the ballot paper.

Johnson has repeatedly vowed to take Britain out of the EU, deal or no deal, by October 31, and this week he said he would rather "die in a ditch" than ask the European Union for another extension.

Benn's bill, backed by a "rebel alliance" of MPs against no-deal, states the prime minister has until October 19 to either pass a deal in parliament or get MPs to approve a no-deal Brexit.

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Once this deadline has passed, he will have to request an extension to the UK's departure date, taking it from October 31 to January 31, 2020.

Benn told the rally: "I'm very concerned that the prime minister is going around the country saying 'I will never apply for an extension'.

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"Now there's only one way you can reconcile that statement with the fact that European Union Withdrawal Number Six Bill, which will become the European Union Withdrawal Number Six Act on Monday, and that would be if he ceases to be prime minister.

"And I would regard that as an unexpected bonus.

"Because either we have the rule of law in this country or we don't.

"And it's really very simple and there really can only be one possible answer from government ministers and the prime minister to the question, 'Will you obey the law?'

"And the only possible answer can be 'Yes'.

"And if on the 19th of October, the day after the European Council, a deal has not been done and as the bill very generously allows him, if he hasn't been able to persuade parliament to agree to leave without a deal, which he isn't going to be able... if he hasn't written a letter on the 19th then people will be in court on Monday morning to seek to get the courts to order him to comply.

"He has no plan, no mandate, no majority and we are not letting him take us out of the EU with no agreement."

Benn said Johnson is "not serious" about getting a new deal with the EU and his plan is to take Britain out without one, citing warnings from industry leaders in farming, car manufacture, foods and medicine about the damage no agreement would cause.

He said the referendum result was a "cry" from the "left behind" and a "collective failure" of the country and people were promised the UK would "hold all the cards" and "easily" get new trade deals.

The Labour MP said he felt an "obligation" to respect the result of the first referendum but he has now come to the conclusion deadlock in parliament means the only way out is a second one.

He added: "Therefore the compromise in the middle is to say, we are prepared to put Mrs May's deal, even if we didn't vote for it, to the people, that's what leaving looks like, those are the trade-offs.

"And on the other hand is Remain, this is for you to choose.

"And the great merit of doing that will be you will get the final decision, and you and me may not like the outcome, because there's no guarantee of how people might vote in those circumstances, but I think it is the right and democratic thing to do."

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