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Another way to sabotage the Benn-Burt bill

Why couldn’t Boris just demand all sorts of things that the EU must do as part of the agreement to get an Article 50 extension, things which the EU would never agree to? Such as that all the leaders must wear clown suits every day for the duration of the extension period? Or that Macron must chop his own testicles off?

Or, to take some less silly examples, that the EU must agree that Britain has no remaining financial obligations towards the EU at all, and that the EU owes the UK 100 billion pounds for their share of the existing EU assets that the UK has helped pay for over the decades? That’s actually one that there are some grounds for thinking is true, and it would be reasonable – well, relatively reasonable – to demand. And, say, that Spain gives up all claims on Gibraltar for the rest of eternity, and will forfeit the Costa Brava to Britain if they ever utter a peep about it again. And that France agrees never to compete in the football World Cup again.

Okay, I’m starting to get silly again, but as far as I can gather there’s nothing in the bill which prevents this sort of approach. That means that the bill is not a water-tight way to guarantee an agreed extension.

No doubt if Boris did this and no agreement happened then we’d definitely see a no confidence vote in the government pass before the end of October. And if you thought things are a chaotic disaster now, wait until that happens.

Update: I’d have also thought that any agreement would involve the EU demanding that before Oct 31 the UK Parliament must be dissolved and a new election called for later in the year.

Update 2: The text of the Benn-Burt bill, otherwise known as the European Union (Withdrawal) (No.6) Bill , can be found here. There’s nothing in it that I can see that prevents Johnson making demands as part of the extension request. The relevant subsection is this:

The Prime Minister must seek to obtain from the European Council an extension of the period under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union ending at 11.00pm on 31 October 2019 by sending to the President of the European Council a letter in the form set out in the Schedule to this Act requesting an extension of that period to 11.00pm on 31 January 2020.

And the text of the letter is this:

“Dear Mr President,


The UK Parliament has passed the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019. Its provisions now require Her Majesty’s Government to seek an extension of the period provided under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union, including as applied by Article 106a of the Euratom Treaty, currently due to expire at 11.00pm GMT on 31 October 2019, until 11.00pm GMT on 31 January 2020.


I am writing therefore to inform the European Council that the United Kingdom is seeking a further extension to the period provided under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union, including as applied by Article 106a of the Euratom Treaty. The United Kingdom proposes that this period should end at 11.00pmGMT on 31 January 2020. If the parties are able to ratify before this date, the Government proposes that the period should be terminated early.


Yours sincerely,

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”

What here prevents Johnson from asking for Portugal to become a British territory, with all the Portugese people to leave by Christmas, as part of the extension request?


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4 thoughts on “Another way to sabotage the Benn-Burt bill

  1. I think they thought of that one, I read somewhere the text of the letter is spelt out in the Bill. But one does wonder what they’ve missed. For example is there a specific time by which Boris must send the letter, rather than just ‘after 19th Oct if no deal has been put before Parliament’? Would delivering the letter a few hours before the deadline mean he’d complied? Equally (and there’s no way he’d do this) have they specified the penalty for not delivering the letter? If not then surely there’s actually no reason why he can’t just say no and say ‘If you don’t like it give me an election and let the public decide my fate’.

    I think if Boris wanted to he could just brazen it out and throw himself on the mercy of the electorate afterwards, but like you I don’t think he’s made of stern enough stuff. He’s too much part of the Establishment to just give the lot of them the bird and dare them to do their worst.

    He could also find the smallest and poorest EU country and promise them a hefty chunk of the £39bn (or whatever the divorce sum is supposed to be) in return for vetoing the extension. Is Malta a full EU member? Could it be induced to help the UK in its hour of need, as it did 80 years ago? The Bulgarians are pretty corrupt, would £20bn be enough to buy their veto?

    I also guess there would be nothing stopping him writing to the EU on the behalf of the 17m who voted leave and point out to the EU that if they do agree to Parliament’s request to extend the A50 period he’ll make sure that the UK does its utmost to put as many spanners in the EU’s works as it can for the next 3 months or whatever period is agreed. And hope they just want rid of us and refuse.

  2. >I think they thought of that one, I read somewhere the text of the letter is spelt out in the Bill.

    Yes, I think it is (I’ll look it up tonight).

    But I bet it doesn’t specify that Boris can’t do any other negotiating. So he could just say, straight after putting the letter in, “That was just our initial offer. But after thinking about it, we’re going to add some legally-binding conditions to the extension. Here’s some more conditions: x, y or z. Take it or leave it.”

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