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September 10, 2019

Rights body mounts fresh Brexit challenge for Boris


September 10, 2019

LONDON: Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces a fresh legal challenge by leading civil rights campaigners to “ensure the government acts within the law” over Brexit.

Liberty said it has lodged papers with the High Court and detailed its intention to bring legal action in a letter to the Prime Minister on Monday. The organisation wrote that it was “gravely concerned” by media reports suggesting that Johnson intends to “ignore his obligations” under Brexit legislation.

But the organisation’s lawyers said it will drop the case if the PM makes it clear that he will comply with the legislation. The European Union (Withdrawal) (No 2) Act, which requires Johnson to seek an extension to the current Brexit deadline of October 31 if no deal is reached with the EU, is set to become law on Monday.

The letter said: “We are gravely concerned by reports in the media suggesting that it is your intention to ignore your obligations under the Act.

“We consider that a decision by any minister of the Crown — let alone the Prime Minister — to deliberately evade obligations under primary legislation would be a grave affront to the rule of law and the UK’s constitutional settlement and would have a profoundly detrimental impact on the whole fabric of our legal system and constitutional order.

“It would plainly be unlawful. We consider that such an unprecedented step would represent a fundamental threat to the civil liberties and human rights enjoyed by those in this country and which our mandate requires us to defend.”

Liberty said it made the move in light of recent comments by Johnson and other members of his cabinet demonstrating an “apparent intention to flout the law”. The organisation, which is not affiliated with any political party, said it is “neutral” on Brexit and that the case is not concerned with how or whether the UK leaves the EU.

It said the objective of the legal action is to “ensure that the UK government respects and upholds human rights and civil liberties”. Liberty director Martha Spurrier said: “We hope this action is unnecessary. However, we would be failing in our duty if we sit back when doubts about the execution of the law swirl over Westminster.

“It is our fierce independence which makes this a case that Liberty must lead. At a time when public faith in parliamentary process is so low, it is essential that party politics are removed from this matter. People must know that this case is not fought on party lines or that it is anything to do with Brexit. This case is about ensuring that the government — whoever it is, or whatever its intention — acts within the law.”

Richard Hermer QC, for Liberty, said: “The rule of law is an essential pre-requisite for effective protection of human rights and civil liberties. Any governmental action that ignores or deliberately breaches the law creates a system of impunity that has been inimical to British constitutional values since at least the Civil War.

“Any such system if remained unchecked by the judiciary would be capable of undermining the very legal order on which civil liberties and human rights have been secured.” Hermer said the Act places “unequivocal and unambiguous obligations” on Johnson and that “multiple credible sources” have revealed he is “intending to deliberately flout these obligations”.

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