Johnson to push for election by Xmas if EU agrees to Brexit delay

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the House of Commons on Tuesday. Mr Johnson had failed to reach an agreement with opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on a new timetable to push his new Brexit deal through Parliament. The two met in Westm
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the House of Commons on Tuesday. Mr Johnson had failed to reach an agreement with opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on a new timetable to push his new Brexit deal through Parliament. The two met in Westminster yesterday after Parliament rejected Mr Johnson's plan to rush through his Brexit Bill.PHOTO: REUTERS

Opposition Labour says risk of no-deal Brexit must be removed

LONDON, BRUSSELS • Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted he still wants Britain to leave the European Union on Oct 31, as the bloc's leaders considered yesterday whether to give Britain a three-month Brexit extension.

If they do, Mr Johnson said he would call a general election by Christmas.

European Council president Donald Tusk told Mr Johnson in a phone call he would be recommending a delay to the other 27 EU states.

And Irish leader Leo Varadkar said there may be a summit of leaders as soon as tomorrow to decide on an extension.

Mr Johnson has said if the EU offers Britain an extension to the end of January, which he was forced by Parliament to request, he will pull the legislation aimed at ratifying his exit deal and seek an election to break the deadlock over Brexit.

The election could be held before Christmas, his spokesman said.

However, the opposition Labour Party has said that before it decides to back an election, it will need to look at the details of the delay to be certain the risk of a no-deal exit has been removed.

Mr Johnson had earlier failed to reach an agreement with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on a new timetable to push his new Brexit deal through Parliament.

The two met in Westminster after Parliament rejected Mr Johnson's plan to rush the Bill - which would turn his Brexit deal into law - through in just three days.

OUT BY OCT 31

That was the message which the Prime Minister delivered to Donald Tusk earlier this morning. It's very clear the public wants this done... they want Brexit done... We're very clear we'd like to get Brexit done by Oct 31.

BRITISH PM BORIS JOHNSON'S SPOKESMAN, on whether the British leader thought he could get the deal passed by Oct 31.

Mr Johnson told Mr Tusk he did not want another Brexit delay, confident he could still get a deal through Parliament by Oct 31, his political spokesman said yesterday.

When asked whether the Prime Minister thought he could get a deal passed by Oct 31, the spokesman said: "That was the message which the Prime Minister delivered to Donald Tusk earlier this morning.

"It's very clear the public wants this done... they want Brexit done... We're very clear we'd like to get Brexit done by Oct 31."

EU leaders were due to consider Britain's request for a Brexit delay yesterday, and were expected to move quickly to extend the deadline, with officials expecting a three-month postponement that could be cut short if Britain passes legislation sooner.

Mr Tusk said on Twitter: "In my phone call with PM @BorisJohnson I gave reasons why I'm recommending the EU27 accept the UK request for an extension."

Mr Varadkar said: "If there is consensus, we can do this by written procedure. If there is not, well then we will have to convene a meeting of the European Council, possibly next Monday, maybe even on Friday, to discuss whether or not to grant an extension, for how long and under what conditions."

 
 
 

He appeared to back a flexible extension to the Brexit process, after speaking to Mr Tusk.

Mr Varadkar confirmed his support for a delay, while both men noted that it would still be possible for Britain to leave before Jan 31, if the withdrawal agreement is ratified before then, according to an Irish government statement.

Meanwhile, Germany said it will not oppose any proposal by the EU to grant Britain an extension to leave the bloc beyond its Oct 31 deadline, a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel said yesterday.

"I can't anticipate the outcome of consultations," spokesman Steffen Seibert said. "But I can say on behalf of the federal government that Germany will not stand in the way of an extension."

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, in raising the prospect that a delay may come with conditions, said: "We have to know: What is the basis for it? What will happen by then? Will there be an election... we have to know what the British are planning and what Johnson is planning. At the moment that's once again completely unclear."

France, however, thinks the British Parliament should be able to scrutinise the Brexit legislation in a matter of days and wants to wait for Mr Johnson's views on that before deciding how long to delay the exit date, according to a French official.

The French believe a maximum of 15 days should be given, the official said, rather than the full three months to Jan 31 that Mr Johnson reluctantly requested.

 
 

This contradicts the thinking in many European capitals, as suggested in Mr Tusk's tweet, that the EU should grant Britain a three-month delay, with the ability to end the extension early.

Mr Iain Duncan Smith, a hard-line Brexiter and former leader of the Conservative Party, said he would rather have an election than extend the timetable for passing the Brexit Bill. If the EU grants a three-month extension, then Parliament would take up all of that time and would hang amendments on it "like a Christmas tree", he told Bloomberg TV.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2019, with the headline 'Johnson to push for election by Xmas if EU agrees to Brexit delay'. Print Edition | Subscribe