British PM Boris Johnson firm on Brexit, rules out seeking extension

MPs leaving the House of Commons as the British Parliament was suspended yesterday until Oct 14. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
MPs leaving the House of Commons as the British Parliament was suspended yesterday until Oct 14. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Parliament suspended but Johnson fails to get snap election

LONDON • Prime Minister Boris Johnson may have succeeded in his drastic plan to suspend Britain's rebellious Parliament for five weeks, but he has achieved little else in his first prolonged jousting with legislators determined to prevent a no-deal Brexit.

Mr Johnson said yesterday that he would not request an extension to Brexit, hours after a law came into force demanding that he delay Britain's departure from the European Union until next year, unless he can strike a divorce deal.

For the second time in a week, lawmakers also rejected Mr Johnson's request for a snap election to try and break the deadlock.

His senior adviser Dominic Cummings reiterated yesterday that Britain will leave the EU on time.

When asked what the next move on Brexit would be, Mr Cummings said: "You guys should get outside London and go to talk to people who are not rich Remainers."

Asked if Britain would leave on time, he said: "Sure."

With the future of Brexit mired in uncertainty, Parliament was suspended until Oct 14, sparking tense scenes in the House of Commons, where opposition lawmakers held signs reading "silenced" and yelled "shame on you" at the ruling Conservatives.

 
 

Speaker of the House John Bercow expressed his displeasure at Parliament's suspension, saying: "This is not a standard or normal prorogation."

"It's one of the longest for decades and it represents an act of executive fiat," he added.

In a session that ran well into the wee hours, Parliament also ordered the government to release private communications about its Brexit plans.

EU leaders have repeatedly said they have not received specific proposals from Britain ahead of an EU summit next month, at which Mr Johnson has said he hopes he can secure a deal.

"This government will press on with negotiating a deal, while preparing to leave without one," the Prime Minister said after losing the bid for an early election.

"I will go to that crucial summit on October the 17th and no matter how many devices this Parliament invents to tie my hands, I will strive to get an agreement in the national interest... This government will not delay Brexit any further," he added.

Mr Johnson has had a turbulent week since Parliament returned from its summer break on Sept 3. He kicked 21 lawmakers out of the Conservative Party after they sided with the opposition, and saw two ministers quit his government - one of them his own brother.

Meanwhile, a new cross-party group is seeking a way out of the Brexit "nightmare" by working to find a deal that can secure a majority in Parliament, suggesting that a Northern Ireland-only backstop may be one answer. Such a backstop would see border controls in the Irish Sea, but not on the land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

 
 

Mr Nick Boles, an independent Member of Parliament who quit the Conservatives this year, said Mr Johnson "doesn't care about anything other than power and glory for himself" and will seek to remain in office by any means.

"I have yet to meet a Labour MP who has a problem with the backstop," said Mr Stephen Kinnock, a Labour member of the group.

Labour MP Caroline Flint said she estimates that 50 MPs from her party would back a compromise position, and she hopes that support for the group will grow.

However, the government yesterday said Britain was not seeking to negotiate a Northern Ireland-only backstop, damping down expectations that Mr Johnson may turn to a previously discarded idea to solve the Brexit impasse.

Officials in Brussels say that to get a deal, Mr Johnson may need to go back to the plan - which involves applying different border rules to Northern Ireland from the rest of Britain - to help keep goods flowing across the Irish border.

"We are not seeking a Northern Ireland-only backstop," Mr Johnson's spokesman said.

Mr Johnson was due to meet leaders of the Democratic Unionist Party, the Northern Irish party which supports his government, late yesterday to discuss Brexit.

Sterling was stable yesterday as investors kept their hands off the British currency, while the risk of Britain crashing out of the EU without a divorce deal on Oct 31 remained high.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2019, with the headline 'British PM firm on Brexit, rules out seeking extension'. Print Edition | Subscribe