The strongly pro-Brexit Tory MP Nigel Evans has claimed he and colleagues have come up with “about 20” ways Boris Johnson could get around a rebel backbench bill due to become law on Monday, mandating the prime minister to seek an extension to Brexit. Evans did not spell all of them out, but here are some of the ideas that have been floated – and their pitfalls.
Ignore the bill completely when it becomes law
This has been mooted by anonymous sources, but No 10 has said the PM would abide by the rule of law. Aside from the constitutional and political storm it would create – and the potential precedent for future governments – it would be hugely risky for Johnson, who could expect very robust court action, even going to jail. It’s hard to see how even becoming a Brexit martyr would make it worthwhile.
Send a second letter to the EU
This is being considered as an option and has been briefed to papers: when Johnson is obliged to formally seek a Brexit extension, he attaches a second letter saying, in effect: “Ignore the request – we don’t want it.” This would seem unlikely to go down well with EU leaders, and would be seen to go completely against the spirit of the law. As the former supreme court justice Lord Sumption said on Monday: “You’ve got to realise that the courts are not very fond of loopholes.”
Find another way to call an election
Call a no-confidence vote in his own government
Another idea floated by Evans, this would involve using the provision in the FTPA under which the opposition can call a confidence vote, but have the government do this itself. This might just work under the law, but would seem pretty odd and could bring curious scenes in which government MPs are ordered to vote against their own PM while the opposition backs him. Even if Johnson did win the vote and the government then fell, the FTPA puts in place a 14-day period before an election, during which opposition MPs would have a chance to put together a caretaker government.
Ask another EU country to block the extension
This was first raised as an idea by the Tory Brexiter Daniel Kawczynski before the delay forced on Theresa May. He said he had approached the government of Poland, where he was born, to block the idea, as an extension needs unanimous agreement from the EU27. However, it did not happen, and it seems unlikely to be different this time. While it is possible the EU as a whole could block an extension, it would be a big ask for even a relatively maverick member state such as Hungary to damage relations with the other 26 members – especially Ireland – by forcing a no-deal Brexit, and all as a favour for a UK government which could be out of power a few weeks later.