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UK will leave the EU on 31 October, says senior cabinet minister

Michael Gove said that the government was aiming to leave the EU before the end of October.

Michael Gove speaking in the House of Commons yesterday.
Michael Gove speaking in the House of Commons yesterday.
Image: House of Commons/PA Wire/PA Images

Updated Oct 20th 2019, 11:55 AM

A SENIOR CABINET minister has insisted that the UK will leave the EU on 31 October, despite parliament forcing Boris Johnson to seek an extension yesterday. 

Michael Gove, the minister in charge of no deal planning, told Sky News today that the UK would still be leaving the EU on 31 October. 

The EU is currently weighing up how to respond to the prime minister’s extension request, which he sent yesterday after an embarrassing defeat in the House of Commons. 

Johnson called Taoiseach Leo Varadkar yesterday to discuss the latest Westminster developments. No further details on that call were released.

This morning, social protection minister Regina Doherty said that she expects that Boris Johnson’s letter to the EU will face a legal challenge this week. 

Johnson did not sign the extension request letter, which he accompanied with another letter to EU leaders telling them that his government did not want a delay. 

“I think there are very many smart lawyers in the UK looking at the letter and will probably challenge it next week,” Doherty told a special edition of RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland programme. 

Doherty also said that she was “disappointed” that the House of Commons had not voted yesterday to approve the deal negotiated between the UK and the EU.  

“We sincerely hope that the House of Commons can reach an agreement this week,” Doherty said. 

She said that it will be “interesting” to see how the letter is received by the EU, “considering it’s not signed”.

Johnson got a senior diplomat to send an unsigned photocopy of the request by MPs to delay withdrawal from the EU. In a second note to European Council president Donald Tusk, Johnson said a Brexit extension would be “deeply corrosive”.

brexit Sammy Wilson, right, said that his party was not seeking a second referendum. Source: House of Commons/PA Wire/PA Images

Labour branded the prime minister “churlish” and “juvenile” in his attitude as Johnson stressed to Brussels he was only sending the communication at parliament’s bidding.

The agreement failed to pass through the House of Commons after the DUP united with Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party to vote against the government to force Johnson to request an extension. 

Also speaking on RTÉ Radio One this morning, the DUP MP Sammy Wilson refused to say that Johnson had betrayed his party, which is still officially in a confidence and supply agreement with the UK government. 

Wilson said that Johnson could use the deal to hold an election and win a majority in parliament. 

“If the arithmetic in the House of Commons was different, I feel his ability to get a better deal would have been enhanced,” Wilson said. 

He also said that his party would try and amend the Withdrawal Agreement Bill as it passes through parliament to “deal with some of the issues we feel need to be dealt with”. 

The decision on whether to grant an extension will come down to the leaders of the remaining 27 EU nations, but it will be Donald Tusk’s job as head of the European Council to gather their views and he could call a special summit to approve an extension.

Tusk has confirmed yesterday evening that he received the letter seeking an extension.

Reaction

“We are going to deliver by the 31 October. We are going to ensure that we get this deal done,” Gove said. 

He said that he had made a bet with health secretary Matt Hancock that the UK will leave before the end of the month. 

Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell said also today that Boris Johnson could be in contempt of parliament and the courts over the letters. 

“He’s behaving like spoiled brat. Parliament made a decision and hes should abide by it,” McDonnell told Sky News.

“It drives at the heart of democracy that the prime minister must abide by the law,” he said. “A number of lawyers have already commented that this is seeking to undermine a decision of parliament.”

Legality of letter

There had been speculation that Johnson, who had committed to leaving the EU on 31 October, would refuse to sign the letter – placing him against the law and potentially in contempt of court. 

It remains unclear whether Johnson’s refusal to sign the letter or his decision to send another letter explaining why his government does not want an extension will prompt any legal action. 

Some legal experts suggested that the only thing that matters was that Johnson had indeed complied with the law and sent the letter, which was also accompanied by an explanatory letter from the UK’s ambassador to the EU. 

Immediately following his House of Commons defeat on the Letwin amendment, Johnson told MPs that he would not negotiate an extension with the EU. 

The Letwin amendment, a cross-party bid to seek an extension in order to ensure legislation backing up the new deal is through the House before Brexit happens, was passed yesterday afternoon by a margin of 322 to 306. 

It forced Johnson to seek an extension under the Benn Act, passed through parliament against the wishes of the government in September. 

That vote followed hours of debate as MPs convened for what was being billed by the UK media as ‘Super Saturday’. It was the first time parliament had been convened on a Saturday for 37 years. 

Hilary Benn, the Labour MP who gave his name to the act, said on Saturday: “After all the bluster, the Prime Minister has tonight sent a letter to the EU asking for an extension.”

“A bit churlish not to sign it though,” he added. 

Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg announced in the House of Commons yesterday afternoon that there will be another Meaningful Vote on Monday.

However, it remains unclear whether Speaker John Bercow will allow the motion or not. He told MPs he would rule on it on Monday. 

Second referendum

Thousands of people took to the streets of London yesterday to demand a second referendum. 

Speaking on the BBC Andrew Marr Show today, shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said that he was inviting the DUP to talk to the Labour Party. 

Starmer said that his party will next week back any amendment brought forward calling for a second referendum on Johnson’s deal. 

There has been speculation that the DUP might even back an amendment on a second referendum when the legislation is brought before parliament. 

“Anybody who wants to improve on the situation, and they do, should be working together,” he said. 

“If you want to work with us on this to improve the situation we’re in, the door is open.”

However, in a statement released this morning Wilson said that the DUP was not seeking a second referendum. 

“The people of the United Kingdom were asked whether the UK should leave the EU, not whether Great Britain should leave Northern Ireland behind. We want to leave as one nation. That remains our goal,” he said. 

With reporting from Press Association and Daragh Brophy

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