British PM Boris Johnson says he will not contemplate resigning, opposition parties unite to block election bid

VIDEO: REUTERS
British PM Boris Johnson is pushing for an election on Oct 15, two weeks before the United Kingdom is due to leave the EU.
British PM Boris Johnson is pushing for an election on Oct 15, two weeks before the United Kingdom is due to leave the EU.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday (Sept 6) he was not willing to contemplate resigning.

"I'll go to Brussels, I'll get a deal and we'll make sure we come out on October 31 - that's what we've got to do," Johnson told Sky News during a visit to Scotland.

When asked if he would resign if he could not deliver that, he said: "That is not a hypothesis I'm willing to contemplate."

Johnson is pushing for an election on Oct 15, two weeks before the United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union, though opposition parties say they want a no-deal Brexit ruled out before they will agree to an election date.

In a sign of how far Brexit has distorted British politics, Johnson's Conservatives expelled 21 rebels on Tuesday - including the grandson of Britain's World War II leader Winston Churchill and two former finance ministers - for seeking to block any exit from the EU without a deal.

On Friday, Johnson said the rebels' expulsion "grieved me deeply".

"These are friends of mine. I worked with them for many years. But we have to get Brexit done and we were being very clear about the risks we're running now in snarling up the process of leaving the EU in Parliament," he said.

 
 
 
 

"And yes of course I am going to reach out to those colleagues and have been reaching out to them, try and find ways of building bridges but I have got to be clear - we must get Brexit done."

Meanwhile, British opposition parties discussed on Friday how to respond to Johnson's bid to call a snap election, after the Prime Minister said he would rather die in a ditch than delay the planned Oct 31 departure from the EU.

In a conference call Friday, the parties – including Labour, the Scottish National Party, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Independent Group for Change – agreed to a unified position for the government’s planned vote in Parliament on Monday, said two people familiar with the decision. They also decided against calling a vote of no confidence in the government on Monday. 

As the United Kingdom spins towards an election, Brexit remains up in the air more than three years after Britons voted to leave the bloc in a 2016 referendum. Options range from a turbulent "no-deal" exit to abandoning the whole endeavour.

The British parliament’s upper chamber on Friday approved a bill which aims to block a no-deal Brexit at the end of October by forcing Johnson to seek a delay to Britain’s European Union departure.

The legislation, which requires Johnson to ask for a three-month extension to Britain’s EU membership if parliament has not approved either a deal or consented to leaving without agreement by Oct. 19, is expected to be signed into law by Queen Elizabeth on Monday.

The House of Lords approved the bill without a formal vote at its final stage.

British lawmakers will on Monday hold another vote on a motion on whether to hold an early election, probably in mid-October, just over two weeks before the United Kingdom is due to leave the EU on Oct 31.

But opposition parties, including the Labour Party, want to ensure that an election does not allow Johnson to lead the United Kingdom out of the EU without a deal.

Johnson on Thursday said he would rather be "dead in a ditch" than delay Brexit.

"We need to be absolutely sure that we are not going to end up in a situation where the general election is used as a distraction whilst they (the government) by some cunning wheeze bounce us out of the European Union without a deal," Emily Thornberry, Labour's foreign affairs spokesman, said.

The opposition Scottish National Party (SNP) will only agree a date for an election when it is sure the threat of a no-deal exit has been averted, its leader in the Westminster Parliament said.

"We will choose the timing of when an election comes. I want to remove Boris Johnson as prime minister, but we need to make sure we don't leave the European Union on a no-deal basis, that's the first priority," the SNP's Ian Blackford said.

An SNP source said: "The SNP is ready for an election, but we will not be played by Boris Johnson."

"We are considering all options and discussing with all parties the best way to prevent a disastrous no-deal Brexit and get rid of this shambolic (Conservative) government as soon as possible," the source added.

BREXIT CRISIS

As opposition parties and Johnson's government haggle over an election date, British politics was in turmoil just over six weeks into Johnson's premiership.

Johnson got a taste of just how deeply Brexit has split public opinion in Britain when he was persistently harangued by man on a shopping street for "playing games", while others cheered the prime minister.

Johnson was speaking to a BBC television crew in the northern city of Leeds on Thursday when a man pushing a child in a stroller interrupted the interview.

"You're playing games with Parliament. You're playing games with the public," the man shouted at Johnson. "You should be in Brussels negotiating. Where's the negotiation going on? Where is it? You're in Morley in Leeds. You should be in Brussels." A crowd gathered and some people began to argue with Johnson's challenger.

England's High Court on Friday rejected a legal challenge against Johnson's suspension of Parliament before Brexit, but said it could be taken to the Supreme Court for a final appeal.

John Major, a former prime minister who supported the court challenge, said Brexit was a deceit that would undermine the United Kingdom's standing and could even split it asunder.

"Brexit will reduce our global reach, not enhance it," Major said. "Once outside Europe, we British will have little or no voice. We are not used to being outside the inner circles of decision-making - and we will hate it." Major said Johnson should fire Dominic Cummings, the adviser behind his high-stakes Brexit strategy whom Major cast as a"political anarchist".

When asked about Major's call, Cummings told Reuters:"Really? Trust the people."