BREXIT Secretary Stephen Barclay made clear to the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show yesterday that the Johnson Tory government has no ‘cunning plan’ to avoid asking for yet another ‘Brexit extension’, as required under the ‘Benn Act’.
This was despite Johnson’s claim in two Sunday newspapers yesterday that there would be ‘no more dither and delay’ and the UK would be leaving the EU on 31st October come what may.
Marr said to Barclay: ‘I know you’re trying to get a deal, but if you don’t, then the Benn Act applies. The Prime Minister has said that he will send a letter now to the EU asking for an extension on Article 50 in those circumstances. Can you confirm here on television that the government will send such a letter?’
Barclay replied: ‘I can absolutely confirm that the government will abide by the law. The Prime Minister is clear on that.’
Marr said: ‘Let me read out for the benefit of everybody watching, because I’m sure you know it, what the Prime Minister said to the Scottish court this week.
‘The Prime Minister accepts that he will send a letter in the form that was set out in the schedule of the bill at a no later date than 19th October. It also said that he will not try to frustrate its purpose or the purpose of its provisions. The Prime Minister has said on the record in the Scottish courts he will send the letter. What is the problem for the Brexit Secretary to say yes we will send the letter?’
Barclay replied: ‘There’s no problem at all. I’ve said we will comply with the law and the law has stated whatever commitments have been given to the court. I’m a lawyer myself. If a commitment has been given to the court, you abide by it.’
Marr responded: ‘So the letter is going to be sent, we can say. Because there is another strange wrinkle in all of this, which is, my colleague Laura Kuenssberg spoke to somebody in Number 10, who said that the government will comply with the Benn Act, which only imposes a very specific narrow duty concerning Parliament’s letter. But the government is not prevented by the Act from doing other things which may cause no delay, including communications, private and public. What does that mean?’
Barclay replied: ‘Well I think the key focus for me is getting a deal because that is the way we address the Benn legislation. The Benn legislation enables the UK to leave with a deal.’
Marr came back: ‘In terms of a cunning plan being devised in Number 10, you’re Brexit Secretary, do you know what it is?’
Barclay said: ‘There are various variables that may happen. But what we’re clear on across the cabinet as a whole, what the Prime Minister is committed to, is to securing a deal.’
Marr responded: ‘I’m going to plead with you – if you know what the plan is, for goodness sake, tell us?’
Barclay answered: ‘I do know what the plan is. It is to secure a deal at the council on the 17th October. That is what the entirety of the government is committed to doing.’
Marr said: ‘One possibility a few days ahead is that there could be a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister and the formation of some kind of so-called government of national unity, perhaps with the Speaker of the House of Commons taking the role of caretaker Prime Minister to get Britain through this process. If that happened, it’s suggested in the papers today, the Prime Minister might simply refuse to leave Downing Street. Is that conceivable in any way at all?’
Barclay replied: ‘I don’t think it’s a government of national unity if you ignore the majority vote of the country that you are seeking to represent.’
Earlier in the programme, Marr said to shadow attorney general Baroness Shami Chakrabarti: ‘Everybody is trying to work out what is going to happen next to see the way forward. And one of the possibilities, it may not be the likeliest, but one of the possibilities is a vote in the House of Commons, no confidence in Boris Johnson and the installation of a so-called government of national unity.
‘Now the problem there as we know is that Jeremy Corbyn insists on being the caretaker prime minister, but the Liberal Democrats have said they will not serve under him, so there is a problem here. People have been talking about Kenneth Clarke and so forth. A new idea, floated in the papers today, is that John Bercow could be a caretaker prime minister to take us through that period. Would that be acceptable for the Labour Party?’
Chakrabarti replied: ‘I think we’re getting into the realms of fantasy football.’