The Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, has indicated that Boris Johnson will send a letter to the EU seeking an extension if there is no agreement by Saturday.
Pressed by the Commons’ Brexit committee over whether the prime minister would obey the Benn act, Barclay said the government “will abide by that text”.
He also denied knowledge of any plan to send a second letter to Brussels asking officials to ignore the first letter because the government did not want an extension.
The legislation passed by MPs opposed to a no-deal exit from the EU requires the PM to ask the EU to extend article 50 beyond 31 October should a deal not be agreed by 19 October.
UK negotiators resumed talks on Wednesday morning after wrapping up their last session in the early hours as they search for an agreement ready for Thursday’s meeting of EU leaders.
If Johnson fails to get a deal by the weekend, he will clash with MPs who will demand he complies with the Benn act and ask for an extension, something he has repeatedly ruled out doing.
Hilary Benn, the chair of the committee, asked Barclay: “Can you confirm if there is no agreement reached which is approved by parliament on Saturday that by the end of the day the PM will write the letter?”
Barclay replied: “I can confirm as the PM has repeatedly set out that firstly the government will comply with the law. And secondly, the government will comply with undertakings given to the court in respect of the law.”
Benn pointed out that the undertaking given to the court was that Johnson would send a letter if specific conditions were not satisfied.
Barclay said: “I can confirm the government will abide by that text.”
The government told a Scottish court earlier this month that the PM accepted he would have no choice but to send a letter. However, there have been repeated briefings from No 10 that claimed ministers have found a way to bypass the law.
Ministers have indicated the government could send a second letter asking the EU to ignore the first letter asking for an extension. The business secretary, Andrea Leadsom, asked by ITV’s Robert Peston last week if the PM would send a second letter disavowing the first, replied: “Absolutely”.
Joanna Cherry, the SNP MP and committee member, asked Barclay if there was a plan to send two letters. “I am not aware of any such plan,” he replied.
Robert Buckland, the justice secretary and lord chancellor, told another select committee he was committed to “upholding the rule of law” as its “guardian in cabinet”, promising it was a role he took extremely seriously.
His comments suggest he would not tolerate any move by Downing Street to disobey the law by refusing to stick within the strictures of the Benn act.
Buckland also dismissed calls from some Conservatives for a politically appointed judiciary in the wake of the supreme court’s ruling against Johnson’s prorogation.
“The day we end with US-style confirmation hearings would be a very black day for our constitution. That sort of approach would be erroneous and based on an assumption that we were creating a constitutional in the UK,” he said.