Judge rejects government's call to end court case on upholding the Benn Act

PUBLISHED: 13:03 21 October 2019 | UPDATED: 14:45 21 October 2019

Jolyon Maugham QC outside the Court of Session in Edinburgh. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire/PA Images

Jolyon Maugham QC outside the Court of Session in Edinburgh. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire/PA Images

PA Wire/PA Images

The highest court in Scotland has rejected the government's efforts to end a case scrutinising whether it is fully complying with the Benn Act.

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The government had attempted to challenge the case, which looks at how closely Boris Johnson is following the requirements of the Act which forced him to seek an extension to Article 50 over the weekend.

Johnson's response, which was to send an unsigned letter followed by another disavowing it, is being examined in an ongoing case brought by businessman Dale Vince, Jolyon Maugham QC and SNP MP Joanna Cherry QC.

An amendment to the Benn Act forced the prime minister's EU withdrawal agreement to be passed by all stages of scrutiny before the act is considered satisfied.

But as the Benn Act's deadline for making an extension request was Saturday, Johnson was forced to approach the EU.

He complied by sending an unsigned photocopy of the letter mandated by the Benn Act, and followed it with another letter saying that he did not believe an extension would be good for the UK.

MORE: The best reactions to Boris Johnson finally sending a letter requesting a Brexit extension

Aidan O'Neill QC, representing the petitioners, described the manner in which the letter was sent as "unusual".

He said the prime minister was "sailing very close to the wind" and "not entirely in accord with spirit" of the Act by sending the second letter, in which he said an extension would "damage" the UK's interests.

MORE: Court case over unsigned Brexit letter could put Boris Johnson in jail

David Johnston QC, representing the UK government, argued the appeal should be dismissed as the letter had been sent.

Johnson had previously submitted a statement confirming that he would comply with the law. Judges are now considering if his actions have put him in contempt of court.

Judge Lord Carloway said the case "should be continued until clear that the obligations under the 2019 Act have been complied with in full."

Joanna Cherry said: "This is a welcome decision by the Court of Session and it is what we sought.

"The decision keeps the Sword of Damocles hanging over Boris Johnson and to make sure he fully complies with the law and the cross-party Benn Act.

"This is a victory for those of us who have been campaigning tirelessly to make sure he follows the law."

Maugham earlier said that his case was not meant to "punish" the prime minister, but "to secure that a man with a mandate from 160,000 recognises the supremacy of laws enacted by a parliament with a mandate from 46 million, however inconvenient they are to him".

After the finding, Maugham said on Twitter: "I am delighted with the Court's decision. It is a pity to have to say it, but this is not a prime minister who can be trusted to comply with the law.

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"And because he cannot be trusted he must be supervised."

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