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UK’s Johnson heads for new defeat in Brexit crisis

September 9, 2019
UK’s Johnson heads for new defeat in Brexit crisis

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced another parliamentary defeat Monday in a vote on holding early elections as Brexit turmoil deepened with the House of Commons speaker promising to resign within weeks.

Parliament will be suspended for five weeks immediately after the vote, leaving Johnson to attempt to salvage his hardline Brexit strategy amid fierce opposition in Westminster and scepticism in Brussels.

The controversial suspension will begin shortly after MPs are set to vote again against Johnson’s bid to hold a snap election next month — just before the country is due to leave the European Union on October 31.

“Parliament will be prorogued at close of business today,” Johnson’s spokesman said at a daily briefing, using the parliamentary term for the suspension.

The attempt to force an election follows another tumultuous day in parliament that saw legislation aimed at preventing a no-deal Brexit on October 31 become law.

In an impassioned resignation speech, speaker John Bercow also told MPs he would step down by October 31 at the latest.

Bercow has faced withering criticism from eurosceptics for a perceived anti-Brexit bias, but has been praised by supporters for sticking up for parliament’s right to have a say in the tortuous Brexit process.

He visibly fought back tears as he thanked his wife and children for their support.

“We degrade this parliament at our peril,” he warned lawmakers, to a sustained standing ovation from largely opposition MPs.

Bercow added he would make “absolutely no apology to anyone anywhere at any time” for his defence of parliament’s right to have its say on the Brexit process.

‘Avoid crashing out’

Johnson held talks with his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar in Dublin before returning to the parliamentary turmoil later Monday to kick off the debate over holding an election.

The British leader ordered the shutdown in an apparent bid to stymie a cross-party block by MPs opposed to a possible no-deal Brexit.

He has vowed to take Britain out of the EU by the October 31 deadline with or without a formal divorce deal — despite warnings that the latter scenario would entail economic chaos.

However, the planned suspension has provoked uproar from opposition MPs and Conservative critics, who have labelled the move a constitutional outrage.

It appeared to backfire by galvanising them into passing legislation last week that forces Johnson to seek another delay to Brexit if he has failed to reach a deal at an October 17-18 EU summit.

Johnson responded to the proposed law by trying to force the snap election, but fell short in a vote of the necessary support of two-thirds of MPs.

He will try again later Monday in another vote widely expected to fail.

Opposition party leaders, who met Monday, have vowed to keep blocking the snap poll until Brexit has been extended beyond October 31.

“He has got to ask for an extension,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told Sky News.

“We will do everything we can to prevent us crashing out on October 31 and will support an election when it is clear we will avoid that crashing out.”

‘Significant gaps remain’

Johnson met Varadkar on Monday hoping to lay the groundwork for new divorce terms as he finds himself increasingly cornered just six weeks after taking over from his predecessor Theresa May.

The British leader wants the bloc to scrap a special provision in the deal agreed by May to keep the Northern Irish border open in all circumstances after Brexit, arguing “alternative arrangements” exist.

But Brussels and Dublin have insisted the so-called backstop mechanism must remain in place to guarantee no return to a hard border between EU member Ireland and British-ruled Northern Ireland, which suffered decades of deadly sectarian violence.

They say Johnson has also yet to propose the details of any workable alternatives.

“While they agreed that the discussions are at an early stage, common ground was established in some areas although significant gaps remain,” the two leaders said in a joint statement following an hour of talks.

Johnson’s decision to prorogue parliament until October 14 and his promise to see through Brexit come what may have rattled his ruling Conservative Party.

Twenty-one Conservative MPs including Winston Churchill’s grandson were sacked last week for voting in favour of the law aimed at blocking a no-deal Brexit.

The dismissals and the defection of one MP to the Liberal Democrats left him without a working majority.

Several members of his government have also quit, including his own brother.

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