What's the worst thing that can happen to Johnson or his government, legally, if he ignores the Benn Act (for now at least) given that he intends to bring legislation on the deal Tuesday, it seems?

Any lawsuits against the government will probably take more than a couple of days to get adjudicated. And if Johnson does get his deal through Parliament next week, civil action based on the Benn Act would most likely be moot because I don't see the EU accepting a delay request that comes after a positive Westminster vote on the deal. Am I missing something here?

Update: Johnson sent the letter unsigned, accompanied by two more documents

  • The second letter from Mr Johnson - signed off this time - makes clear he personally believes a delay would be a mistake. It says the government will press on with efforts to pass the revised Brexit deal agreed with EU leaders last week into law, and that he is confident of doing so by 31 October.

  • A cover note from Sir Tim Barrow, the UK's representative in Brussels, explained the first letter complied with the law as agreed by Parliament.

So I guess that muddies the waters even further, but still leaves open the question what anyone could do in the UK in response, through legal judiciary channels.

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    In this political climate, do you really want to be assuming anything? (And that's half the point.)
    – Joe C
    Commented Oct 19, 2019 at 16:24
  • When you say legally, do you mean any action through the courts? Or do you include any efforts that abide by the law, even if they take place outside the courts (e.g. new bills in the HoC)?
    – JJJ
    Commented Oct 19, 2019 at 16:25
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    @JJJ: yes legally. I don't want to get into motions of no confidence etc. Commented Oct 19, 2019 at 16:41
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    Jailed for contempt of Parliment? The letter has to go tonight by law right?
    – Jontia
    Commented Oct 19, 2019 at 17:49
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    He sent the letter, though he did it in the most passive-aggressive, defy-the-legislation-while-pretending-he's-not way imaginable. He sent the required letter unsigned, sent with it a second letter he signed saying he thought an extension was the wrong way to go, and put a cover letter on them all calling the unsigned one "Parliament's letter". This dude is running high odds of getting reamed by the Supreme Court again. Commented Oct 20, 2019 at 5:12

2 Answers 2


If Johnson hadn't sent a valid extension request per the Benn Act, potentially that would have opened him to a charge of contempt of court (given his assurances to the court that he would comply) or misfeasance in public office.

Since sending the extension request, if he attempts to frustrate or circumvent the purpose of the Benn Act, the same applies.

If the Withdrawal Agreement is agreed by the UK and the European Parliament and if the the Withdrawal Agreement Bill is passed by UK Parliament by 31 October then the Benn Act is no longer relevant.


Apparently there's going to be a contempt hearing in Scotland on Monday:

Scotland’s most senior judge, Lord Carloway, and two other judges will hear allegations on Monday that the prime minister broke a promise he made to the court that he would not try to sabotage that request for an extension. [...]

The court needs to decide whether those pledges included not trying to frustrate that act, known in full as the European Union (Withdrawal) (No 2) Act, by simultaneously asking for the extension request to be ignored. [...]

If the three judges find Johnson is in contempt, he could theoretically face a fine or even jail, but the court could suspend a ruling on sanctions to give the prime minister time to comply with its ruling. [...]

The government is expected to argue on Monday that Johnson honoured his promises to the court by sending the letter as required, and that it was lawful for him to simultaneously argue against an extension.

It's gonna be interesting to see how that turns out.

The hearing happened, but no decision (on contempt) was made. The case was postponed; the Government asked for the case to be dismissed since Johnson had sent the 2/3-letters, but the judges declined to dismiss, so the case continues. The case also covers what Johnson would/will do if the EU does grant an extension, i.e. whether he accepts it.

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    Previously the court decided to adjourn to see if Boris complied with the first provision of the act (making the request for an extension). Note that Joanna Cherry, one of the instigators of this case, has reported that they intend to ask the court simply to adjourn again to keep an eye on the situation to ensure that he now complies with its remaining provisions (not frustrating the purpose of the legislation, and accepting an extension once the EU offers one). That is almost certainly what the court will decide to do.
    – Dan Scally
    Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 7:34
  • @DanScally and that's what the court did.
    – Lag
    Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 13:42
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    @Fizz, I'm not sure "no decision was made" is accurate - the court granted the continuance requested by the petitioners.
    – Lag
    Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 14:14
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    @Lag: good point, I've clarified that part. Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 14:17

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