Boris Johnson arrives in New York on Monday for three days of talks with world leaders on Brexit and Iran, but with Downing Street fearing the trip could be derailed by a UK Supreme Court ruling on the prime minister’s decision to suspend parliament.
Mr Johnson’s visit to the UN General Assembly offers the prospect of meetings with leaders including German chancellor Angela Merkel, French president Emmanuel Macron and US president Donald Trump but domestic issues could quickly intrude.
Dominic Raab, foreign secretary, said on Sunday that the government would “respect whatever the legal ruling is from the Supreme Court”, which is expected to deliver its decision on Monday or Tuesday on whether Mr Johnson behaved lawfully in suspending parliament for five weeks.
Number 10 was initially confident that the 11 justices on Britain’s highest court would side with the English High Court in ruling that the “prorogation” of parliament until October 14 was a political matter and not one for judges.
But after last week’s hearings, there is less confidence in No 10 that it will win the case. At the very least, Mr Johnson’s team fear the Supreme Court will decide that prorogation decisions are justiciable, meaning that the prime minister could run into legal trouble if he tries the move again.
Mr Raab suggested on the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme that if the original prorogation decision were to be overturned, Mr Johnson might order another suspension.
Mr Raab said he was “keen not to take levers off the table that weaken the position of the UK in Brussels”, suggesting that he saw the prorogation of parliament as one means of maintaining the threat of a no-deal exit on October 31.
Meanwhile Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission president, has said there would have to be controls at the Irish border in a no-deal Brexit, adding to pressure on Mr Johnson to make significant concessions to get a deal.
He told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “We have to make sure that the interests of the European Union and of the internal market will be preserved.
“An animal entering Northern Ireland without border control can enter — without any kind of control — the European Union via the southern part of the Irish island.”
The UK has been told by the EU that the three “non papers” it submitted to Brussels last week — which are a page long each — do not amount to a legally operational alternative to the current Irish backstop.
The British government has proposed plans for customs checks away from the Northern Irish border and electronic trusted trader schemes to smooth the process of customs procedures. Brussels has warned this would require the UK securing wholesale derogations from the EU’s single market and customs union rules.
Separately, Matt Hancock, health secretary, moved to reassure 180,000 pensioners, students and other Britons living in the EU, whose healthcare is funded by the UK, that they would have their costs covered for six months if the UK left without a deal. Any UK nationals in the EU who were in the middle of medical treatment when Brexit happened would also have their costs covered for up to a year, he said.
While at the UN Mr Johnson will announce that up to £1bn of aid funding would be made available to develop clean energy technologies for use in developing countries.
A fund would be set up in honour of British physicist and suffragette Hertha Ayrton and Mr Johnson’s allies insist the use of development aid to pay for scientific research — notably by British scientists — was in line with overseas aid rules. The fund will include proposals to provide affordable access to electricity to around 1bn people who are off the grid, large-scale battery technology to replace polluting diesel generators, and replacing wood stoves with cleaner models.
Mr Johnson will also announce a £220m fund to save endangered species such as the black rhino, African elephant, snow leopard and Sumatran tiger from extinction.
The prime minister will be joined on the trip by the environmental campaigner Carrie Symonds, his partner. Tory officials said Ms Symonds was travelling to New York “on work business” as an adviser to Oceana, a green pressure group.
Additional reporting by Sarah Neville