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Taoiseach says risk of no-deal Brexit is 'relatively low' but preparations will continue

Judges will decide tomorrow if the unsigned letter sent by Boris Johnson asking for a Brexit extension puts the PM in contempt of court.

Image: Stefan Rousseau

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said he believes it is “more likely than unlikely” that a Brexit deal will pass through the House of Commons but warned there would be no further concessions from the EU to get it over the line.

Speaking to RTÉ News this evening, Varadkar also said the risk of a no-deal Brexit was “relatively low” but that Ireland’s no-deal planning will continue.  

His comments come as Michael Gove, the UK minister in charge of no-deal planning, today insisted that they will leave the EU on 31 October, despite parliament forcing Boris Johnson to seek an extension yesterday. 

The EU is currently weighing up how to respond to the extension request, which Varadkar said is a possibility. 

“We have negotiated two deals with the UK government at this stage. Both of them supported by 28 governments. There isn’t going to be any further changes and I think the UK government acknowledges that.”

I think the risk of no-deal is relatively low. But, nonetheless, we need to continue to prepare for it and as a result of that, we are not stepping down our plans of preparing for a no-deal.

“But obviously there is the possibility of an extension, which would be preferable to no-deal but that does require unanimity from 27 governments and they really want to know what the purpose of this extension is.

“But even looking at the votes in the House of Commons, while there were quite a number of MPs who voted for an extension. A lot of them have indicated they will vote for the deal. So, I think it is more likely than unlikely that a deal will eventually pass,” Varadkar said. 

Contempt of court 

Tomorrow, judges are set to decide whether the unsigned letter sent by Boris Johnson asking for a Brexit extension from the EU complied with the Benn Act, or if the Prime Minister is in contempt of court.

Although Johnson sent a letter to the EU requesting an extension, as required by the so-called Benn Act, he did not sign it and also sent a second letter – which he signed – that said a delay would be a mistake.

A hearing at the Court of Session in Edinburgh by Scotland’s most senior judge Lord Carloway, and two other judges, was postponed until after the deadline for the extension letter to be sent under the terms of the Benn Act.

Now that the deadline has passed, the hearing is set to resume on tomorrow but the Prime Minister’s attempts to avoid requesting an extension raises questions about whether the court views the unsigned letter – and second contradictory letter – as obeying the law.

The petitioners behind the legal challenge at the Court of Session, led by Good Law Project founder Jolyon Maugham QC, confirmed that the resumed hearing would go ahead on Monday.

Addressing the legal action, Maugham explained: “The court’s role is to uphold the law – not to act as parent to a stroppy child.

“The question whether the Prime Minister is in contempt of court – as many commentators have argued – is really one for it.

“But we will supply the court with a transcript from the Inner House hearing. The hearing tomorrow will go ahead.”

He added:

But the PM has made the request for an extension he promised he wouldn’t make, the EU is considering that request, and the question whether the PM and Advocate General for Scotland are in contempt of court is one for the Inner House.

During the case’s first hearing on 9 October, the Government’s lawyers assured the court that Johnson would adhere to the law in writing and before the judges – despite the Prime Minister’s repeated public declarations that he would never request an extension.

If the three judges find Johnson has failed to uphold the law, they could find him in contempt, with potential punishments including a fine or even a jail sentence.

xinhua-headlines-parliament-vote-forces-britain-to-ask-for-brexit-delay-raising-uncertainties Source: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

‘A childish trick’

EU Commission President Donald Tusk confirmed at 10pm on Saturday that he had received the Prime Minister’s request, tweeting:

“The extension request has just arrived. I will now start consulting EU leaders on how to react.”

In his signed letter, Johnson wrote: “A further extension would damage the interests of the UK and our EU partners, and the relationship between us.”

The letter, to Tusk and copied to European Council president Jean-Claude Juncker, references his regret at being defeated over the Letwin amendment in the House of Commons on Saturday.

It states: “Regrettably, Parliament missed the opportunity to inject momentum into the ratification process for the new Withdrawal Agreement.”

MPs voted by 322 to 306 in favour of amending the Brexit deal in order to withhold the Commons’ approval until the necessary UK legislation to leave the EU has been passed. The Government’s response was to cancel Saturday’s vote on the deal, with it expected to be brought back before MPs during the week.

Joanna Cherry QC, an SNP MP who has been involved in bringing proceedings to court, described Johnson’s actions as a “childish trick of not signing the letter and sending a contradictory covering letter”.

She added: “Our legal team are instructed to remind the court that as well as promising to comply with the letter of the Benn Act, the PM also promised not to seek to frustrate the purpose of the legislation.

“It will be for the court to decide whether his actions in failing to sign the letter of request and sending a letter setting out his contrary intentions are in breach of the undertakings he gave them or a contempt of court.”

- With reporting from PA 

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