France today said the EU will not agree a Brexit delay beyond October 31 amid claims Boris Johnson will defy the law and ‘sabotage’ an extension if he is unable to strike a deal with Brussels.
Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French foreign minister, said the Brexit meltdown in the UK was ‘very worrying’ as he insisted an extension would not be possible under the current circumstances.
‘We are not going to do (extend) this every three months,’ he said.
His comments represent a potential hammer blow to Remain-backing MPs who have passed a law which will force the PM to ask the EU to postpone Brexit if the two sides have not struck an agreement in the run up to the Halloween deadline.
EU chiefs have previously suggested they would be willing to delay Brexit in order to give the UK time to hold a general election or a second referendum to break the impasse.
Mr Johnson has said he will not ask for an extension in any circumstances but Mr Le Drian’s remarks suggest that even if he did, the request may be denied.
It came as Mr Johnson and the Tories surged to a 14 point lead over Labour in a new poll as his ‘do or die’ pledge to leave the EU with or without a deal continued to resonate with Leave voters.
The Conservative Party is polling at 35 per cent in a new YouGov survey with Labour far behind on 21 per cent, the Lib Dems on 19 per cent and the Brexit Party on 12 per cent.
But while Mr Johnson may be surging in the polls, his Brexit strategy continues to cause chaos in Westminster as it emerged that he is considering a plan to defy the rebel anti-No Deal law which is expected to be given Royal Assent as early as tomorrow.
Under the plan, detailed in The Sunday Times, the Prime Minister will try to agree a new deal with Brussels at a summit on October 17 but should he fail he will then refuse to ask for an extension.
Downing Street believes such a move would guarantee an immediate judicial review in the Supreme Court with the fate of Brexit placed in the hands of judges just days before the October 31 deadline.
The emergence of the bombshell strategy, detailed in The Sunday Times, came as Amber Rudd resigned from the Cabinet and surrendered the Tory whip as she claimed ’80 per cent to 90 per cent’ of government efforts were now focused on No Deal.
Ms Rudd said she could not continue to serve as work and pensions secretary after the PM sacked 21 Tory Remainer rebels for backing a bid to block No Deal, accusing him of an ‘assault on decency and democracy’.
But Sajid Javid, the Chancellor, struck a defiant tone today as he said ‘the government will not change its policy’ over keeping a No Deal split as an option while Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, said the government will ‘test to the limit’ the legislation passed by MPs.
Number 10 announced this morning that Therese Coffey, an environment minister, had replaced Ms Rudd as Work and Pensions Secretary.
It came as John McDonnell suggested Labour would only support a new coalition government, formed in the event Mr Johnson resigns, if Jeremy Corbyn leads it – something many opposition MPs are opposed to.
Mr Johnson will tomorrow try for a second time to trigger a snap general election as he urges MPs to back going to the country on October 15.
But opposition leaders have united and agreed they will not support an early poll taking place until a Brexit delay has been formally agreed with the EU to stop Britain crashing out of the bloc in just 53 days.
However, Downing Street has worked up a fall back plan should Mr Johnson’s bid for an election fail.
The plan would see him ignore an anti-No Deal law passed by MPs and peers last week.
He would go to the final EU summit before Brexit and seek an agreement but should one not be forthcoming he would then refuse to ask for the delay the law states he must.
Such a move would spark a political, constitutional and legal firestorm because the PM would be acting in open defiance of the law.
Number 10 believes the matter would then be referred to the Supreme Court. Legal experts believe Mr Johnson could ultimately risk a jail sentence if he fails to comply with the law.