No end in sight yet, I'm afraid.
LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to kick off what is in effect an election campaign casting parliament as the enemy of Brexit was overshadowed on Thursday when his younger brother quit the government, citing the national interest.
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 endeavor.
Ahead of a speech in northern England where Johnson was expected to begin an informal election campaign, his own brother, Jo, resigned as a junior business minister and said he was stepping down as a lawmaker for their Conservative Party.
“In recent weeks I’ve been torn between family loyalty and the national interest — it’s an unresolvable tension & time for others to take on my roles,” he tweeted.
‘We don’t do things that way, that’s a very left-wing thing,’ then-London mayor said
An old Boris Johnson soundbite is coming back to haunt the embattled prime minister in the wake of his brother Jo’s resignation.
The elder Johnson was rocked by his sibling’s decision to step down as an MP and higher education minister on Wednesday.
Jo Johnson said he was finding it impossible to reconcile “family loyalty and the national interest”, adding in a tweet: “It’s an unresolvable tension & time for others to take on my roles as MP & minister.”
The prime minister had previously suggestion that “shafting” one’s own family in politics was something only left-wingers did.
In an interview with The Australian in 2013, discussing Ed Miliband‘s Labour leadership victory over brother David, Mr Johnson said: “We don’t do things that way, that’s a very left-wing thing.”
Move sparks fears PM will use European security as Brexit bargaining chip
Boris Johnson has told Brussels he wants to rewrite the defence pledges in the current Brexit deal, sparking EU fears that he will use the security of European citizens as a bargaining chip.
A demand for a looser level of cooperation was made by Johnson’s EU envoy, David Frost, during the recent talks in Brussels with the European commission negotiators.
The UK is arguably the EU’s strongest defence power, and one of only two member states alongside France possessing the “full-spectrum” of military capabilities.
Senior Conservatives, including Nick Timothy, Theresa May’s former chief of staff who is now a Johnson supporter, have long suggested that the British government should use its defence capability as leverage to gain concessions from the EU on trade.
The current political declaration contains a commitment to “close cooperation in union-led crisis management missions and operations, both civilian and military”.
It is understood the British government is insisting that any future deal must contain structures that will maintain British sovereign control over how its defence assets are used. It is argued that the current political declaration does not go far enough in protecting its interests.
A UK source said: “The future relationship should include a security relationship that will enable the UK and the EU to jointly combat shared threats faced by our citizens domestically and abroad.”
EU diplomats suggested that Johnson was establishing a tough line on military cooperation in the hope of later trading it for movement from Brussels elsewhere in the future agreement.
“It looks like they are seeking leverage,” said one EU diplomat. Other senior officials said they regarded the demand as being part of a broader move to have a “clean break” from the EU in all parts of the relationship.
Frost has emphasised the UK government’s wish to ditch Theresa May’s goal of the closest possible economic relationship and frictionless trade for a looser deal on regulatory alignment, which will create some barriers to trade but give the UK greater freedom in striking global trade deals.
Philippe Lamberts, a Belgian MEP on the European parliament’s Brexit steering group, said Johnson was mistaken if he believed the UK could use its military to blackmail the EU.
He said: “It won’t work. I am sure it wouldn’t have worked if they had tried this two years ago. If they believe they are going to get us to compromise on the Irish backstop or the single market just for defence cooperation, they are wrong.
“I am prepared to discuss things with people who don’t share my views, and I have great respect for many Conservative MPs, but Johnson is just obsessed with power.
“We have too many politicians like that with Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and Donald Trump in the US. Johnson has turned his party into the English nationalists’ party, and I am not the only one who thinks that.”
May was accused of trying to blackmail the EU in 2017 when the UK first triggered the article 50 exit process.
A letter overseen by her two chiefs of staff, Timothy and Fiona Hill, had warned that if the UK left without a deal it would trade on World Trade Organization terms and “in security terms, a failure to reach agreement would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened”.
The then prime minister later stepped back from the threat by insisting that Britain’s role in defending Europe was unconditional.
Timothy, who was sacked following the disastrous 2017 general election campaign, wrote last month that May’s negotiating strategy had given away “her leverage – on security, on trade deals with other countries, on Britain’s so-called divorce bill – in return for nothing”.
Jenny Chapman, a shadow Brexit minister, said: “This is further evidence that Boris Johnson’s government wants a distant and abrupt departure from the EU, with minimal cooperation. Johnson is putting ideology above the national interest – even in vital areas such as defence and security.”
President Trump’s support for Britain’s exit from the European Union may be about to collide with his election-year hopes of presiding over a strong economy.
The president has long seen “Brexit” as reflecting the same sort of nationalist impulse that drove his White House upset in 2016. He has hailed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who vows to sever ties with Europe on Oct. 31 no matter what, as a kindred populist spirit.
But as British Parliament this week dealt Johnson a stunning four consecutive defeats, the prospect of further delay in leaving the E.U. or a chaotic no-deal divorce spiked.
Continuing instability in the world’s fifth-largest economy — coupled with anti-government protests in Hong Kong, a U.S.-China trade war, and financial problems in major developing countries such as Argentina and Turkey — threatens to become a drag on an already troubled global economy.
“This is a highly volatile environment,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist for Oxford Economics. “You have a toxic cocktail of revolution and general political uncertainty in Europe, Asia, Latin America...and the news from the rest of the world remains consistently tilted to the downside.”
The U.S. economy remains largely healthy, with growth percolating at about a 2 percent annual rate and unemployment near a half-century low. But investors expect the Federal Reserve in two weeks to cut interest rates for the second time this year, largely because of weakness abroad.
In Jackson Hole, Wyo., last month, Fed Board Chair Jerome H. Powell cited the “growing possibility of a hard Brexit” and “rising tensions in Hong Kong” among the geopolitical risks that could unravel the U.S. expansion.
Global worries already are showing up in currency and bond markets. Investors seeking the safety of liquid markets or guaranteed returns are driving up the value of the dollar and U.S. government securities. The greenback last month reached an all-time high against a basket of major trading currencies.
That’s a hint of what might happen in the event of an abrupt Brexit. If Britain were to quit the E.U. without a formal withdrawal agreement — as Johnson has threatened — the biggest blows would fall on the United Kingdom and its European trading partners.
U.K. output would shrink by more than 5 percent while unemployment and inflation would soar, Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, told Parliament earlier this week.
Broader effects on business and investor confidence would ripple through global financial markets. A further flight to safety by global investors could send the dollar even higher, which would make American goods more expensive for foreign buyers. That would depress U.S. exports, potentially increasing the trade deficit that the president insists he will narrow, economists said.
“Brexit is a multiyear looming catastrophe,” said Douglas Rediker, chairman of International Capital Strategies, a financial consultancy. “If you go over the cliff, the cost is more than just a quantitative cost in terms of trading impacts. It’s a reminder to financial markets that other bad things can happen.”
Despite the economic danger, the Trump administration continues to cheer on the long-running Brexit drama. At the White House on Wednesday, the president praised the embattled British prime minister shortly before his fourth parliamentary humiliation in little more than 24 hours.
“He’s a friend of mine, and he’s going at it; there’s no question about it,” Trump told reporters. “Boris knows how to win. Don’t worry about him.”
The president’s statement came after Vice President Pence backed Brexit during a meeting in Dublin with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who warned that the process will be “deeply disruptive” to the two-decade-old peace agreement in Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.
Trump, who bragged in 2016 on Twitter that people would “soon be calling me MR. BREXIT,” spoke with Johnson by phone last month about how the two countries could quickly conclude a new trade agreement.
The British leader has sought to cast a new trade deal with the United States as an example of the benefits of leaving the E.U., which sets trade policy for its 28 members. American and British negotiators have met six times in the three years since establishing a joint working group.
Despite Trump’s optimism about “rapidly” closing a deal, the British leader has acknowledged that agreement in the next year is unlikely. Stumbling blocks include American demands to open the National Health Service to U.S. drugmakers and to allow genetically modified seeds on British farms.
“A U.S.-U.K. deal will be a lot more difficult to make, and will take longer, than either Trump or Johnson thinks,” said William Reinsch, a former Commerce Department official now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It’s less about tariffs than it is about different standards and regulatory approaches. If we insist on ours, it will force the U.K. to choose between us and the E.U., and the latter as a whole is by far their larger trading partner.”
Trade with the E.U. accounts for roughly half of the United Kingdom’s total goods and services trade, more than $800 billion. That’s far more than the $262 billion in commerce with the United States.
“If it goes badly — or if there is a hard Brexit — there will be a global economic impact,” said Dan Price, who coordinated international economic policy for President George W. Bush.
Switzerland has been touted as a model for the UK, post-Brexit. It is an independent state that determines its own laws, controls its own borders, and through its status as an associated country has access to many key elements of EU membership – including the institution’s leading science and research programmes.
But Switzerland’s recent experiences should sound a warning about the importance of cross-border ties, and about how future collaborations between the UK and the EU could be jeopardised if a no-deal Brexit materialises this autumn.
In 2014, the Swiss had their own referendum, which ultimately called on their government to impose stricter limits on the number of new entrants to their country. The intention was to curb the passage of low-skilled migrants into Switzerland, including free movement with the EU. However, the consequences have been far-reaching – and one unintended effect has been more than five years of isolation and regression for the country’s academic institutions and research groups.
Swiss researchers were immediately locked out of Horizon 2020, the EU research and innovation programme, as well as the prestigious European Research Council, and saw their status as key players in Europe evaporate. Unbeknownst to the government, the referendum result undermined seven bilateral arrangements with the EU, dating back as far as 2002.
A stand-off ensued as the Swiss thrashed around to find a compromise. But the effects were brutal. Swiss research institutions were marginalised, and their outreach efforts operated in a climate of uncertainty. According to Andreas Mortensen, the vice-president for research at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, “The whole thing [the 2014 referendum] created a lack of assurance – we saw a large decrease in the number of European projects led by our researchers.”
The long-term financial hit Swiss science has taken is still unclear. But the reputational damage has been significant. According to the Swiss research institute EPFL, levels of collaboration with the EU dropped by a factor of 10. Previously, Switzerland had ranked seventh for EU project coordinations, but after 2014 it plummeted to 24th place.
For UK science, which boasts an incredible history of world-leading research and discovery, there’s now a nervous wait. The fear is that a similar situation could manifest itself as Britain plots its exit from the EU. The country is, after all, one of the biggest recipients of research funding in the EU – claiming €8.8bn (£7.9bn) out of a total of €107bn during the funding round of 2007-2013. To abandon this would be catastrophic – and could put the UK on a Swiss-style path to scientific exile.
There is some recognition of the peril at hand, at least. The UK government has confirmed that, like its Swiss counterpart, it is prepared to step in to make up the shortfall in EU research funding. However, no money can compensate for the loss of invaluable collaborative networks. After 2014, Swiss researchers were not welcome at European research consortia, and the flow of EU-funded scientists into Switzerland stopped.
The UK government has said that it wishes to retain access to major pan-European research programmes. Yet the reality of doing so, while simultaneously restricting freedom of movement, does not align with current EU rules – and is something that would make even associate membership of EU research programmes difficult, and perhaps impossible, to attain. The financial hit alone of a no-deal Brexit would cost UK research more than €577m per year in lost opportunity to access very high-value grants – and that’s before the cost is counted of the thousands of jobs that are tied to these projects, and the trickle-down effects their loss would have on the wider economy.
So it’s clear that some perspective is needed as we approach the Brexit deadline. The warnings of hundreds of experts, and the cautionary tale of Switzerland must not be ignored. If the proud research and innovation record of UK science is disrupted, it will jeopardise all of our prosperity.
Pub chain reduces price of UK-made beer and vows further cuts on lager, wine and cider … if import tariffs fall
Wetherspoons’ boss Tim Martin has pledged to slash the price of lagers, spirits, wine and cider if the UK leaves the EU, after shaving 20p off a pint of ale to illustrate the Brexit benefits he expects for drinkers.
Martin has been one of the most vociferously pro-Brexit figures in the world of business, repeatedly insisting that leaving the European Union, even without a deal, will mean cheaper prices for customers.
Wetherspoons has cut the price of Ruddles, an ale made by Greene King, by an average of 20p across its 900 pubs. Although Ruddles is made in the UK Martin said a low-tariff regime would cut overall costs for Wetherspoons, which it could then pass on to drinkers.
Leaving the EU would allow the government to slash tariffs on imported goods, Martin said: “The reality is that if you’re running a business and you get a cost reduction, then you can allocate it to whatever part of the products you sell you want to.
“There are no import tariffs on Ruddles bitter but pubs are synonymous with beer and I strongly believe that if we get a reduction in tariffs on non-EU imports, the most beneficial thing for us to do is to make our beer more competitive.
“Depending on what they [the government] do, my first move on the 31st October would be to do something for a lager, a cider, a glass of wine and for a spirit, so there’s something for everyone.”
He said that neither suppliers, nor employees, some of whom have complained of poverty wages, would suffer as a result. “We think we’ll be able to maintain our operating margin and reduce prices to customers,” he said.
Martin has already axed drinks from the EU in its pubs and replaced them with less well-known brands from outside the single market in a move to demonstrate post-Brexit opportunities. He insisted that drinkers were as willing to order substitute products as they were the better-known staples of the drinks cabinet.
“On the basis that the ports might block up, which I think is a fiction by the way, we buy brandy from Australia and America rather than France.
“On a taste test it was better than Courvoisier and it’s 10p a drink cheaper. It sells as well as Courvoisier.”
Martin added that industries such as the automotive sector, which has warned repeatedly that leaving the customs union could deal huge damage to carmakers, were overstating the likely impact.
“If those sorts of problems apply, businesses can reorganise their supply chains,” he said.
Jeremy Corbyn and other party leaders commit to voting down snap election plan on Monday
Opposition parties have agreed to reject Boris Johnson’s attempt to trigger a snap election for a second time on Monday, making it increasingly unlikely a poll will be held before 31 October.
Jeremy Corbyn held the latest of a series of discussions with fellow opposition leaders on Friday morning, at which they agreed not to allow an election to take place until after a delay to Brexit has been secured.
Downing Street has tabled a motion under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act for a second time asking MPs to approve an early general election. It requires the support of two-thirds of MPs to pass – impossible without the backing of opposition parties.
Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader, Liz Saville Roberts, who was involved in the talks, said: “We need to make sure that we get past 31 October, and an extension to article 50. We were in agreement that the prime minister is on the run. Boris is broken. We have an opportunity to bring down Boris, to break Boris, and to bring down Brexit – and we must take that.
“Just as [it would have] this week, a vote for a general election would play into Boris Johnson’s hands. It would allow him to ignore the legislation that is presently going through the House of Lords.”
She added: “Our intention is to be here, in this place, to hold him to account and to make sure that he abides by that law.”
The backbench-led bill mandates Johnson to seek an extension to article 50 if he has failed to secure a new Brexit deal by 19 October. It is expected to receive royal assent on Friday.
Corbyn told MPs in the House of Commons on Wednesday that he would be ready to support Johnson’s call for a general election once the legislation had passed, saying: “Let this bill pass and gain royal assent, and then we will back an election so we do not crash out of the European Union with a no-deal exit.”
But he faced a backlash from Labour MPs anxious about Johnson engineering a no-deal Brexit. Their concerns were intensified by the prime minister’s insistence on Thursday that he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than request a delay to Brexit.
Asked about Johnson’s comments, Saville Roberts said: “Being prime minister was one of the ticks on Boris Johnson’s megalomaniac bucket list. If he wanted to be PM, he takes the responsibilities that comes with it.”
Labour has not ruled out tabling a vote of no confidence in Johnson’s government, but with parliament due to be prorogued by next Thursday at the latest, time is running out to do so in time for an October election.
If Johnson lost a vote of no confidence, opposition parties would have 14 sitting days to assemble an alternative majority. If they failed to do so, an election would be triggered 25 days later.
A Labour spokesperson said: “Jeremy Corbyn hosted a positive conference call with other opposition party leaders this morning. They discussed advancing efforts to prevent a damaging no-deal Brexit and hold a general election once that is secured.”
British proposal to involve Stormont assembly in backstop alternative knocked back by EU
Boris Johnson’s first concrete proposal for replacing the Irish backstop has hit the buffers in the latest “disastrous” meeting between the prime minister’s chief negotiator and the EU.
In a heavily trailed move, Johnson’s envoy, David Frost, proposed an all-Ireland food standards zone on Friday, but the UK is also seeking to give the Stormont assembly a say on whether it would continue in the years ahead.
The attempt to give the proposed arrangement what British officials have described as democratic legitimacy by involving politicians in Northern Ireland was firmly knocked back by the EU. European commission negotiators said such a proposal would leave Ireland in a constant state of uncertainty over the future.
The development comes as EU sources close to the negotiation spoke of their doubts about the potential fruitfulness of the talks given the likelihood of a general election and the insistence from the prime minister that his negotiating position has been wrecked by no deal being taken off the table.
EU officials involved in the negotiations are understood to have lamented that Frost has been acting “like a spokesman” for the prime minister, saying that Theresa May’s envoy, Olly Robbins, had at least been able to talk around the problems encountered in the talks.
EU sources said the commission would continue to meet with the British delegation for as long as Downing Street wished.
Johnson is insisting in his attempted renegotiation that the Irish backstop, which would keep Northern Ireland in the single market and the whole of the UK in a customs union to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, must be ditched from the withdrawal agreement.
Johnson has floated the idea of Northern Ireland staying aligned with EU standards on agrifoods, which make up a large proportion of the trade crossing the border with the Republic. Such a move would remove the need for sanitary and phytosanitary checks (SPS) on animals and animal products crossing the border on the island of Ireland, although all other goods would not be covered and it would not deal with the issues of VAT and customs checks.
Earlier in the week Johnson had referenced the comments of the former Democratic Unionist party (DUP) leader Ian Paisley who had said of Northern Ireland that the people were British but “the cattle were Irish”.
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Johnson is insisting, in a move designed to make the proposal palatable to the DUP, that the arrangement would have to “clearly enjoy the consent of all parties and institutions with an interest”.
It is understood the UK has suggested there is a need for Stormont to be able to vote on the continuation of the proposed common regulatory area, which has been described by EU officials as a “backstop-lite”.
EU sources said the suggestion was firmly rebuffed and that recent meetings had been a “disaster”, with the gap between the two negotiating teams seemingly widening by the day.
Sources said the discussion over the common agrifood area was “cursory” and further discussions over the UK’s preferred alternative to the backstop were expected next week.
Irish government sources reacted angrily to Johnson’s gambit, saying the protection of the all-Ireland economy was a vital element of the Good Friday agreement, and that the responsibility for protecting the peace process lay with Westminster and not the Northern Ireland assembly.
The UK government also sought to find a role for the Northern Ireland assembly in the future negotiations over the shared agrifood zone but an EU diplomat said there was a high degree of scepticism.
The source said: “The EU negotiates with the UK authorities at the departing stage and not its constituent elements.
“Having Stormont overturn an agreed and ratified agreement at a later stage prior to the backstop entering into force will undermine the withdrawal. A curious ask given the fact that currently Stormont hasn’t sat for over two years?”
A UK government spokesman said: “The prime minister’s sherpa David Frost and a cross-government team met officials from the commission’s A50 taskforce today.
“The UK team presented some preliminary ideas on how any all-island SPS solutions could involve the consent of all parties and institutions with an interest – something the prime minister referred to earlier this week in parliament. The discussions highlighted a number of issues which would need to be considered further and it was agreed that this would be discussed again next week.”
PM’s hopes of election by end of October recede as opposition leaders agree to reject demands
Boris Johnson’s shrinking options have narrowed further after opposition leaders agreed to reject his demand for a snap general election, until a Brexit delay has been secured.
Senior members of the “rebel alliance” who have pledged to block a no-deal Brexit, including Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson, agreed to withhold their support when the government holds a second vote on Monday aimed at triggering an early poll.
With parliament due to be suspended by next Thursday at the latest, it now appears unlikely Johnson will succeed in his bid to force an election before 31 October – unless he takes the nuclear option of resigning.
After a tumultuous week for the prime minister, the rebels’ pact came as:
• Former justice secretary David Gauke warned that Johnson risked turning the Conservative party into “Farage-lite”.
• The backbench bill aimed at blocking a no-deal Brexit completed its passage through the House of Lords, clearing the way for it to receive royal assent on Monday.
• A scrawled note leaked to Sky News showed Johnson referring to David Cameron as a “girly swot”.
• Johnson was criticised by the chief constable of West Yorkshire police for using new police recruits as the backdrop for a political speech.
• The prime minister’s first concrete proposal for replacing the Irish backstop hit the buffers following a “disastrous” meeting between his chief negotiator and the EU in Brussels.
Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader, Liz Saville Roberts, who was involved in the rebel talks, said: “We need to make sure that we get past 31 October, and an extension to article 50. We were in agreement that the prime minister is on the run. Boris is broken. We have an opportunity to bring down Boris, to break Boris, and to bring down Brexit – and we must take that.”
She added: “Our intention is to be here, in this place, to hold him to account and to make sure that he abides by that law.”
The brutal treatment of the Tory rebels, and the erratic behaviour of Johnson’s adviser Dominic Cummings, have provoked growing disquiet even in cabinet, with Michael Gove raising the question this week of whether they could be welcomed back into the party.
Gove, who as chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster is in charge of accelerating no-deal planning, asked officials to leave the regular gathering of the key “XO” committee of ministers on Friday so they could air their concerns, one source told the Guardian — although allies insisted the meeting was routine.
Johnson will fly back on Saturday morning from a visit to the Queen’s summer residence of Balmoral with his partner Carrie Symonds to spend the weekend plotting his next move.
The passage of Hilary Benn’s backbench bill means Johnson will be legally obliged to request an extension to article 50, if he has failed to pass a Brexit deal, or received MPs’ approval to leave without a deal, by 19 October.
Speaking in Scotland on Friday, the prime minister insisted he would refuse to ask for any delay.
“We’ve spent a long time trying to sort of fudge this thing and I think the British public really want us to get out. They don’t want more dither and delay,” he said during a visit on Friday to a farm near Banchory, Aberdeenshire, at which he encountered a prize bull called Keene.
Asked how he would secure a new deal at the EU summit on 17 October, he said: “By powers of persuasion. Because there’s absolutely no doubt we should come out … It’s a pointless delay.”
But Gauke, one of the 21 Conservative rebels who lost their party whip this week for supporting the Benn bill, said Johnson would ultimately be left with little choice.
“During both the leadership election and subsequently, he has just boxed himself in, again and again and again. Just this week he is now saying there are no circumstances in which he will seek an extension. But if the law requires him to seek an extension, he either has to comply with the law, or resign. Surely he must comply with the law?”
In an interview with the Guardian, Gauke also strongly criticised the Tory party’s direction under Johnson.
If Johnson did resign, the Queen would be expected to ask Corbyn to try to form a majority government.
The Labour leader has mooted the idea of leading a short-term caretaker government, in order to extend article 50 and call a general election. But many members of the rebel alliance have concerns about backing a Corbyn-led administration, even for a short period.
There was further embarrassment after it emerged that Johnson referred to Cameron as a “girly swot” in a recent cabinet paper. The leak of an unredacted version of court documents to Sky News prompted condemnation of the prime minister for sexist insults.
During his inaugural prime minister’s questions on Wednesday, Johnson seemed to call Corbyn a “great big girl’s blouse” in relation to the Labour leader’s refusal to back an immediate general election.
The other reference dates back to 16 August, appearing in a handwritten note about the idea of suspending parliament for five weeks.
The document was initially revealed on Thursday by Downing Street as it resisted legal challenges in Edinburgh and London to the prorogation of parliament, both of which cases were eventually won by No 10.
In Aberdeenshire on Friday, at the end of a bruising week, Johnson was asked twice whether he would sack his chief strategist, Dominic Cummings, after the former prime minister, Sir John Major, described him as a “poison” at the heart of government on Thursday night.
Johnson did not answer the first question on his adviser’s future but pressed a second time refused to give Cummings his unambiguous support. He answered: “Look … advisers, as I think someone said in the Commons the other day, advisers advise and ministers decide.”
He was also asked about his own future after a tumultuous week during which he suspended 21 Tory MPs, including the former chancellor Ken Clarke, his younger brother Jo Johnson stepped down from the government and as an MP, and other senior Tories announced their retirement. His brother cited irreconcilable conflicts between his family and the national interest.
Asked about his failure to uphold his pledge during the Tory leadership campaign to unite the party, Johnson said he had promised to “deliver Brexit, unite the country and defeat Jeremy Corbyn. And that’s what we’re going to do.” Asked again when he would resign, he said: “Er … well … I think after those three objectives have been accomplished I will … At some point after those three objectives have been accomplished.”
With a no-deal Brexit now all but impossible, Johnson will come under intense pressure to achieve the renegotiated deal with Brussels he has always said was his preferred option.
To encourage him to do so, a new cross-party group launched on Friday called “MPs for a deal”, including Labour’s Stephen Kinnock and Caroline Flint, Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb, and former Conservative leadership contender Rory Stewart, who lost the party whip this week.
“Even at the eleventh hour it’s not too late to agree a deal to ensure an orderly exit from the European Union,” they said in a joint statement. “The media focus has been on the short extension proposed by the Benn bill. However, we believe that Boris Johnson’s response to the bill should be to ensure he secures a deal with the EU27.”
Boris Johnson is threatening to sabotage the EU to make it cave in on a Brexit deal – or reject MPs’ plan to stop the UK crashing out of the bloc.
In a dramatic escalation of its battle with Brussels, Downing Street believes it has devised a way out of the crisis to make the EU no longer “legally constituted”, paralysing its decision-making.
The extraordinary plan would see the UK refuse to appoint a commissioner, putting the EU in breach of its own legal duty for all 28 member states to be represented on its executive branch.
No 10 believes the UK would be “disrupting” Brussels life to such a degree that member states will then make it clear they will refuse to grant an Article 50 extension – even if asked for.
A source said: “We will turn the pressure onto the EU to show how difficult it will be for them if the UK is still hanging around.”
The aim is to force an acceptable Brexit deal, but the source added: “If they won’t negotiate a deal, it would be ideal if they would kick us out.”
The threat to bring the EU to a standstill is a hugely controversial attempt to break free of the ambush which saw MPs move to block a no-deal – while also denying Mr Johnson the general election he craves.
The prime minister is under pressure to come up with a “plan B”, to avoid the unenviable choice of breaking the law by refusing to seek an extension, or quitting No 10 after six weeks in office.
The prospect of him ignoring the law instructing a Brexit delay triggered furious criticism yesterday, after Mr Johnson said he would only apply “in theory”.
David Lidington, Theresa May’s de-facto deputy, sacked by her successor, warned of a “really dangerous precedent” that would bolster the rise of authoritarian leaders across the globe.
“It is very important, at a time when, around the world, we are seeing people in other countries holding up alternatives to rule of law and democratic government, that British governments do always demonstrate that they comply with the law,” he said.
Michael Heseltine, the Tory grandee and supporter of the People’s Vote campaign, told The Independent: “It is absolutely extraordinary that a Conservative prime minister needs to be reminded by a colleague that the British government should follow the rule of law and not act in a way which emboldens dictators and strong-arm populist leaders to undermine democracy.”
Jeremy Corbyn said: “It’s a chilling message for people in our country and a dangerous example to would-be autocrats and hard-right leaders across the world.”
And Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: “Boris Johnson’s actions show a fundamental disregard for democracy. He is simultaneously horrifying our allies and delighting right-wing populist leaders around the world.”
However, No 10 rejects the “false choice” between resigning or law-breaking, placing its faith in the new aggressive stance with Brussels to allow him to escape either fate.
Article 17 of the Treaty on European Union means the EU will “not be legally constituted on 1 November” – the date the new European Commission takes office – without a UK commissioner, it says.
Brussels could try to reduce the number of commissioners from 28, one for each state, but the UK would have a veto which it would use unless the EU bent to its will.
No 10 accepts Mr Johnson would be breaking the law if he refused to seek the extension parliament will demand – but believes events will not reach that stage, because the EU would be forced to back down first.
The move is being revealed after a day which saw:
* A former director of public prosecutions warn Mr Johnson is heading for prison if he breaks the law and defies parliament by still pursuing a no-deal Brexit
* Groups of pro and anti-Brexit protesters clash violently on Parliament Square, forcing the police to intervene
* The head of the Conservatives for a People’s Vote group cut up his Tory membership card, declaring the party under Mr Johnson is “no longer for me”
* Philip Hammond, the former chancellor, expelled from the party for his Brexit revolt last week, reveal he is taking legal advice over his ejection
* No 10 begin negotiations with TV bosses for live TV election debates, believing Mr Corbyn will “run scared”
The no-deal blocking bill – to become law on Monday – will give the prime minister only until 19 October to pass a deal before he must seek an extension to at least 31 January.
One possibility being floated is for him to refuse to send the legislation to Buckingham Palace for royal assent, to dare the Commons to bring him down.
Alistair Burt, another of the 21 expelled rebels, told The Independent that No 10 had “lost their minds” and called for Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s controversial chief aide, to be sacked.
“We are losing grip completely. This week has been the most disastrous I have experienced in 32 years in parliament. They are not behaving rationally,” Mr Burt said.
The Brexit party should be given a free run at targeting traditional Labour heartlands in the North, Midlands and Wales by the Conservatives as part of an electoral pact, its leader, Nigel Farage said.
Farage, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, said the offer of a non-aggression pact was “100% sincere” and would help return the prime minister, Boris Johnson, to Downing Street.
The Conservative leader’s plans to hold a general election were thwarted earlier this week when the government proposed a snap poll but an insufficient number of MPs backed the move.
According to the paper, the former Ukip leader wants to see the Brexit party not face Tory opposition in seats such as Wansbeck, currently held by the Labour chairman, Ian Lavery, and West Bromwich East, held by the deputy leader, Tom Watson.
In return the Brexit party would not contest seats where they could split the so-called leave vote, the Telegraph reported.
Farage wrote: “If the general election which this country so badly needs is to result in the pro-Brexit outcome which the majority of voters crave, Mr Johnson must agree an electoral pact with the Brexit party.
“Johnson should cast his mind back to the European elections in May, in which his party came fifth, and ask himself: does he want the Tories to find themselves in a similarly disastrous position when the results of the next general election come in, or does he want to sign a non-aggression pact with me and return to Downing Street?
“We are not playing political games. I have spent more than 25 years fighting for Brexit. It is now within our grasp.”
DUBLIN (Reuters) - Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Monday that the removal of the border backstop without any proper replacement would mean a no-deal Brexit for the United Kingdom.
“In the absence of agreed alternative arrangements, no backstop is no deal for us,” Varadkar said ahead of talks with his British counterpart, Boris Johnson.
“All it does is kick the can down the road for another 14 months; another 14 months of uncertainty for business, another 14 months of uncertainty for people north and south of the border. So that’s not an option that we find attractive at all.”
Varadkar said he would not replace a legal guarantee for the Irish backstop, an insurance agreement to prevent the return of border controls between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, without an specific alternative.
“What we cannot do and will not do, and I know you understand this is agree to the replacement of a legal guarantee with a promise,” the Irish PM said. He also said a no-deal Brexit would usher in years of negotiations.
“In my view, the story of Brexit won’t end if the United Kingdom ends [exits] the European Union on Oct.31 or even Jan. 31,” he said. “There’s no such thing as a clean break or just getting it done. Rather we’ll just move on to a new phase.”
He said if there was no deal, Britain and the EU would have to get back to negotiations quite quickly to address citizens rights, financial settlement and the Irish border, all issues which had been included in Theresa May’s withdrawal deal.
He warned even if a deal was struck, agreeing a future free trade agreement would be a “Herculean” task for Johnson.