Advice to Boris Johnson

Frank asked:

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in a bit of a tight spot at the moment. Do you philosophers have any advice? 

Answer by Gideon Smith-Jones

The so-called ‘Benn Bill’ (after Labour politician Hilary Benn) which becomes law on the 9th September, requires UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to request an extension to Article 50, if a withdrawal agreement between the UK and the EU has not been achieved by 19th October. The precise text of the extension request letter is specified in the Schedule of the Law.

Boris Johnson said on camera he would rather be ‘dead in a ditch’ than make such a request. If he fails to send the latter at the appropriate time he faces legal proceedings for Contempt, and possibly gaol. If he sends the letter, his political reputation will be ruined. He will have done the one action that he stated he absolutely would not do under any circumstances whatsoever.

Our advice is that Boris should write the following letter:

Dear Mr President,

In compliance with UK law as enacted in the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019, I am required to send you a letter containing the following text:

“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 11.00pm GMT 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”

It is my view, and the view of my Cabinet that to grant any extension would be a grave error, with significantly deleterious consequences for both the European Union and the United Kingdom.

The issues that prevent an agreement between the EU and the UK, if they cannot be resolved now, will not be resolved in three months, six months, or indeed years, regardless of which Party is in power in the UK. 

It is our judgement that uncertainty over the outcome of protracted negotiations will have a strongly negative impact on the economies of the EU and UK, as well as provoking increased social unrest. There is nothing to be gained, either by the EU or the UK, from such a meaningless exercise.

Furthermore, it is our intention, if and when the Conservative Party is re-elected with a majority in the House of Commons, to end all negotiations abruptly once the 31 October deadline has passed and leave without a deal.

I therefore strongly advise you to ignore the request expressed in the quoted letter. There is still time to agree a withdrawal deal before 31 October.

Yours sincerely,

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

On the basis of this letter, the EU are of course free to ignore Boris’s advice and grant the extension, although, possibly, they might be less inclined to do so. It’s up to them.

Boris, meanwhile, would have successfully distanced himself from the extension request, having made it clear that the request comes, not from him or the Conservative Party, but from the British Parliament, whose composition after any future election could be very different from what it is at the present time.

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