Op­po­si­tion par­ties refuse to budge in Brexit chaos

British PM vows to push again for gen­eral elec­tion

The Morning Call - - NATION & WORLD - By Jill Lawless

LON­DON — Bri­tain’s Brexit dilemma in­ten­si­fied Fri­day, as op­po­si­tion par­ties re­fused to sup­port Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son’s call for an elec­tion un­til he secures a de­lay to Bri­tain’s exit from the Euro­pean Union — some­thing he vows he’ll never do.

John­son in­sists Bri­tain must leave the EU in 55 days, and says an elec­tion is the only way to break the dead­lock that has seen law­mak­ers re­peat­edly re­ject the di­vorce deal on of­fer, but also block at­tempts to leave the EU with­out one.

He wants to go to the pub­lic Oct. 15, two weeks be­fore the sched­uled Brexit day of Oct. 31, but needs the sup­port of twothirds of law­mak­ers to trig­ger a snap elec­tion.

John­son lost a vote on the same ques­tion this week, but he plans to try again Mon­day.

Af­ter dis­cus­sions Fri­day, law­mak­ers from sev­eral op­po­si­tion par­ties said they would not back an elec­tion un­less the gov­ern­ment asked the EU to post­pone Brexit, re­mov­ing the risk the United King­dom could crash out with­out a deal.

John­son says he would “rather be dead in a ditch” than de­lay Brexit.

Par­lia­ment is try­ing to force his hand, pass­ing an op­po­si­tion­backed law that would com­pel John­son’s Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment to seek a three-month Brexit post­pone­ment if no di­vorce deal is agreed by Oct. 19.

The leg­is­la­tion was ap­proved Fri­day by the un­elected House of Lords, af­ter gain­ing back­ing from the elected House of Com­mons ear­lier this week. It will be­come law within days once it gets the for­mal­ity of royal as­sent.

But pro-EU law­mak­ers want to hold off on trig­ger­ing an elec­tion un­til the Brexit de­lay has ac­tu­ally been se­cured, fear­ing John­son will try to wrig­gle out of the com­mit­ment.

“I do not trust the prime min­is­ter to do his duty,” said Liz Sav­ille Roberts, leader in Par­lia­ment of the Welsh party Plaid Cymru.

She said law­mak­ers needed to be sit­ting in Par­lia­ment in late Oc­to­ber, rather than on the elec­tion cam­paign trail, to en­sure Bri­tain does not crash out of the EU. That makes an elec­tion be­fore Novem­ber un­likely.

“We need to make sure that we get past the 31st of Oc­to­ber,” she said.

Block­ing an elec­tion is a risky strat­egy for the op­po­si­tion, which could be ac­cused of deny­ing the pub­lic its say.

The Con­ser­va­tive Party on Fri­day tweeted a mocked-up im­age of Labour Party leader Jeremy Cor­byn in a chicken suit, and John­son said he had “never known an op­po­si­tion in the his­tory of democ­racy that’s re­fused to have an elec­tion.”

Scot­tish Na­tional Party leader Nicola Stur­geon tweeted: “An early gen­eral elec­tion is now a ques­tion of ‘when’ not ‘if’ — but John­son mustn’t be al­lowed to dic­tate the tim­ing as a de­vice to avoid scru­tiny and force through a ‘no deal’ Brexit.”

John­son’s op­tions are un­clear if he loses Mon­day’s vote. He could call a no-confidence vote in his own gov­ern­ment, which would only need a sim­ple ma­jor­ity to pass. He could try to change the law that gov­erns how elec­tions can be trig­gered. He could even re­sign.

In short, it’s a mess.

John­son be­came prime min­is­ter in July af­ter promis­ing Con­ser­va­tives that he would com­plete Brexit and break the im­passe that has par­a­lyzed Bri­tain’s pol­i­tics since vot­ers de­cided in June 2016 to leave the bloc and which brought down his pre­de­ces­sor, Theresa May.

Af­ter only six weeks in of­fice, how­ever, his plans are in cri­sis. The EU re­fuses to rene­go­ti­ate the deal it struck with May, which has been re­jected three times by Bri­tain’s Par­lia­ment.

John­son’s push to leave the EU at the end of next month, come what may, is fac­ing op­po­si­tion in the courts as well as in Par­lia­ment. Most econ­o­mists say a no-deal Brexit would cause se­vere eco­nomic dis­rup­tion and plunge the U.K. into re­ces­sion.

John­son en­raged his op­po­nents by an­nounc­ing he would sus­pend Par­lia­ment at some point next week un­til Oct. 14, leav­ing just over two weeks to the dead­line. Crit­ics ac­cused him of sub­vert­ing democ­racy and car­ry­ing out a “coup.”

Trans­parency cam­paigner Gina Miller took the gov­ern­ment to court, ar­gu­ing the sus­pen­sion was an “un­law­ful abuse of power.”

On Fri­day, a panel of three High Court judges ruled against her, but said the case can be ap­pealed to the Supreme Court, which has set a hearing for Sept. 17.

Out­side court, Miller said she was dis­ap­pointed with the rul­ing but would not give up.

“We need to pro­tect our in­sti­tu­tions,” she said.” It is not right that they should be shut down or bul­lied, es­pe­cially at this mo­men­tous time in our his­tory.”

John­son in­sists he wants to se­cure a di­vorce deal, and his chief Brexit ne­go­tia­tor, David Frost, was in Brus­sels on Fri­day for talks with EU of­fi­cials. But the bloc says Bri­tain has made no con­crete pro­pos­als for changes to May’s re­jected deal.

AN­DREW MILLIGAN/GETTY-AFP

British Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son strolls around a farm Fri­day in Scot­land, where he cam­paigned. He vowed to steer Bri­tain out of the EU and lead the coun­try for­ward.

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