Johnson vows to stay on as PM even without Brexit deal

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Manchester Central on the opening day of the Conservative Party's annual conference yesterday. He is set to be spending considerable time on the phone with European leaders during the conference. PHOTO: BLOOMBE
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Manchester Central on the opening day of the Conservative Party's annual conference yesterday. He is set to be spending considerable time on the phone with European leaders during the conference. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

In rallying Conservative Party, he says only his govt can take Britain out of EU in end-October

MANCHESTER • Mr Boris Johnson vowed yesterday to stay on as Britain's prime minister even if he fails to secure a deal to leave the European Union, saying only his Conservative government can deliver Brexit on Oct 31 no matter what.

At the beginning of his party's annual conference in the northern city of Manchester, Mr Johnson sought to rally his party with the "do or die" message that he would deliver Brexit by the end of next month, with or without a deal.

But there are hurdles to clear, not least of which is what Mr Johnson calls "the surrender Act" - the law Parliament passed to force the Prime Minister to request a Brexit delay if he has not secured a deal with Brussels by an EU summit from Oct 17 to 18.

"People can feel that this country is approaching an important moment of choice and we have to get on and we have to deliver Brexit on Oct 31... I'm going to get on and do it," he told BBC television.

Mr Johnson again declined to explain how he plans to circumvent that law and deliver on his Brexit promise, deepening uncertainty over Britain's biggest trade and foreign policy shift in over 40 years.

When asked if he would resign to avoid having to ask for a delay, he said: "No, I have undertaken to lead the party and my country at a difficult time and I am going to continue to do that. I believe it is my responsibility."

Opposition lawmakers have been highly critical of Mr Johnson's reference to "the surrender Bill", saying his language is stirring even more division in a country that has remained split since the 2016 referendum on EU membership.

But he defended his use of what his critics say is inflammatory language in the Brexit debate.

"Martial metaphors, military metaphors are very old standard parliamentary practice," he said.

He said he thought "everybody" should calm down, adding that he was being a "model of restraint".

TIME TO MOVE ON

It is certainly true that other EU countries also don't want this thing to keep dragging on, and they don't want the UK to remain in the EU truculent and mutinous and in a limbo and not wishing to cooperate in the way that they would like. There is a strong view across the EU that it is time to move on.

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON, saying that while he is still hopeful of securing a "good deal", he will not pretend that it will be easy.

 
 
 

Though the option of bringing a vote of no confidence in Mr Johnson has been mooted in some quarters, the opposition Labour's education policy chief Angela Rayner said the party wants to "get no deal off the table" before it does anything else.

But time is running out on efforts to avoid a potentially chaotic departure from the EU, which many businesses say could hurt the economy and tip the country into recession.

The government is expected this week to present proposals aimed at overcoming the main stumbling block in talks - the border between the British province of Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.

So far the two sides have failed to agree on how to prevent a return to a hard border if any future deal fails to maintain frictionless trade.

Mr Johnson said that he is still hopeful of securing a "good deal", but added that he would not pretend it will be easy.

"It is certainly true that other EU countries also don't want this thing to keep dragging on, and they don't want the UK to remain in the EU truculent and mutinous and in a limbo and not wishing to cooperate in the way that they would like," he said.

"There is a strong view across the EU that it is time to move on."

Alongside domestic policy announcements this week, Mr Johnson will also be spending considerable time on the phone with European leaders during the conference and Brexit negotiations will accelerate, his office said.

The conference "will be a rally for Boris Johnson and a rally for Brexit", predicted Dr Tim Bale, a professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London.

Even as the conference started, however, Mr Johnson faced new questions about his relationship with a US businesswoman who won public grants.

What is more, opposition parties are threatening manoeuvres, perhaps even a confidence vote, that could force ministers to race back to Parliament. But in what will be seen as a snub to MPs, Mr Johnson will deliver his closing speech as planned on Wednesday, when he should be answering questions in the Commons.

Meanwhile, The Sunday Times reported that Mr Johnson apologised to Queen Elizabeth II after the Supreme Court ruled that he should not have asked her to suspend Parliament.

Separately, despite publicly saying it would back opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as an interim prime minister in a government of national unity, the Scottish National Party is in secret talks to find an alternative, according to The Sunday Times.

In other developments yesterday, the government said it is committing to build 40 new hospitals - the kind of pledge that adds to the impression that it expects to fight an election soon.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 30, 2019, with the headline 'Johnson vows to stay on as PM even without Brexit deal'. Print Edition | Subscribe