New Times,
New Thinking.

  1. Election 2024
9 September 2019

Could Boris Johnson break the law to prevent a Brexit extension?

This is a government that loudly and repeatedly shouted about its commitment to Brexit – and is now quietly retreating.

By Stephen Bush

Will Boris Johnson break the law to prevent an extension to the Brexit process? That’s the big question, now that the House of Commons is set to both enshrine a mandate for an extension into law and reject Johnson’s request for an election. The suggestion that a Johnson government might simply ignore the law has been briefed to several newspapers and hinted at by some ministers.

What should we make of the fact that, as the Times’s Oliver Wright reveals, Johnson has privately assured several nervous cabinet ministers that his government will obey the law? Well, on the one hand, if you’re willing to break the law and open that particularly destructive can of worms, then lying to a couple of ministers is frankly small beer.

But on the other hand, this is a government that has repeatedly issued colourful briefing about how it is utterly committed to delivering Brexit, no matter how many laws it has to break to get there – and is now quietly retreating. Remember the 101 procedural hurdles that it was going to throw in the way of Hilary Benn’s bill to seek an extension? Don’t worry if you don’t, because the government doesn’t seem to either. Or that pledge it made, to fight the bill every step of the way in the House of Lords – every step of the way turned out to mean folding at a little before half past one. It may be that the government’s attempts that were briefed in detail to today’s Telegraph – to find a way to escape its obligations – go the same way. 

The reality though is that the important Brexit battle is political. If Johnson did pursue the irrevocable step of simply ignoring the law, what would be the repercussions, both in and outside of parliament? Can the majority to stop no deal in the 2017 parliament survive the looming 2019 election? Can the 2019 election produce a parliament that can resolve Brexit in either direction? The answer to all of these questions remains unclear.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Content from our partners
The future of private credit
Peatlands are nature's unsung climate warriors
How the apprenticeship levy helps small businesses to transform their workforce