PM Johnson: I will not ask for Brexit delay

LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday he would not request an extension to Brexit, hours after a law came into force demanding he delay Britain’s departure from the European Union until 2020 unless he can strike a divorce deal.

Johnson appeared to have lost control of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union with the approval of the law, which obliges him to seek a delay unless he can strike a new deal at an EU summit next month. EU leaders have repeatedly said they have not received specific proposals.

As Johnson tries to break the deadlock in London, he will ask parliament a second time for an early national election but is likely to be defeated in a vote at around 2320 GMT on Monday. He will then suspend parliament until Oct. 14.

“If you really want to delay Brexit beyond October the 31st, which is what you seem to want to do, then vote for an election and let the people decide if they want to delay or not,” Johnson told lawmakers at the start of the debate on an early election.

“And if you refuse to do that tonight, then I will go to Brussels… on October the 17th and negotiate our departure on the 31st of October, hopefully with a deal… but without one if necessary. I will not ask for another delay.”

Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said the party was eager for an election, but would not support Johnson’s move to hold one until they were certain a delay to Brexit had been secured.

“As keen as we are, we are not prepared to risk inflicting the disaster of no-deal on our communities,” Corbyn said.

Brexit, the United Kingdom’s most significant geopolitical move in decades, remains in question more than three years since the 2016 referendum, with possible outcomes ranging from an exit on Oct. 31 without a withdrawal agreement to smooth the transition to abandoning the whole endeavour.

The bill seeking to block a no-deal exit, passed into law on Monday when it received assent from Queen Elizabeth, will force Johnson to seek a three-month extension to the Oct. 31 deadline unless parliament has either approved a deal or consented by Oct. 19 to leave without one.

Responding to concerns the government could ignore the legislation, Foreign Minister Dominic Raab earlier told parliament that the government would respect the rule of law but “sometimes it can be more complex because there are conflicting laws or competing legal advice.”

Johnson took over as prime minister in July after his predecessor Theresa May failed to push the Withdrawal Agreement through parliament.

Since then, Britain’s three-year Brexit crisis has stepped up a gear, leaving financial markets and businesses bewildered by an array of striking political decisions that diplomats compare to the style of U.S. President Donald Trump.

BlackRock, a U.S. investment firm that manages $6.8 trillion of assets, said a no-deal Brexit or a referendum had become more plausible.

Against the dollar, the pound trimmed gains to stand up 0.3% on the day at $1.2323. It jumped to a six-week high of $1.2385 in London trading after economic data beat forecasts.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks ahead of the vote on whether to hold an early election, in Parliament in London, Britain, September 9, 2019, in this still image taken from Parliament TV footage. Parliament TV via REUTERS

HOUSE OF BREXIT

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, champion of parliament in its move to rein in the prime minister over Brexit, took a veiled swipe at Johnson as he announced on Monday he would stand down from the role, issuing a warning to the government not to “degrade” parliament.

Johnson, a former journalist who derided the EU and later became the face of the 2016 Vote Leave campaign, has repeatedly promised to deliver Brexit on Oct. 31.

Ireland told Johnson on Monday that he must make specific proposals on the future of the Irish border if there is to be any hope of averting a no-deal departure, saying Dublin cannot rely on simple promises.

“In the absence of agreed alternative arrangements, no backstop is no deal for us,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, standing beside Johnson outside the Irish government, told reporters. “We are open to alternatives, but they must be realistic ones, legally binding and workable, and we haven’t received such proposals to date.”

The blunt remarks by Varadkar indicate the difficulty of Johnson’s gamble of using the threat of a no-deal exit to convince Germany and France that they must rewrite an exit agreement struck last November.

“I want to find a deal, I want to get a deal,” Johnson said in Dublin, adding that there was plenty of time to find one before an Oct. 17-18 EU summit.

The law that came into force on Monday does allow for one scenario in which a no-deal Brexit could take place on Oct. 31 – if parliament approved a no-deal exit by Oct. 19.

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However the current parliament would be unlikely to switch stance and approve a no-deal exit by then.

Lawmakers voted 311 to 302 on Monday to demand the government publish documents relating to its planning for a no-deal Brexit and private communications from government officials involved in a decision to suspend parliament.

Those calling for the documents to be published say they will show that the decision to suspend parliament was politically motivated, as a way to limit parliamentary discussion on Brexit. The government said the suspension was to give Johnson the chance to set out a new legislative agenda.

Additional reporting by Paul Sandle, Kate Holton, Alistair Smout; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Frances Kerry, Angus MacSwan and Sonya Hepinstall

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