WASHINGTON/NEW YORK – U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson formed a war Cabinet of six senior ministers to plan for exiting the European Union by Oct. 31, as a key adviser said leaving without a deal had become a very real prospect, the Sunday Times reported.
Johnson’s most senior aide, Dominic Cummings, a key leader in the 2016 Brexit campaign, called advisers to the prime minister’s residence Friday night and told them Brexit will happen “by any means necessary,” the Times said. Cummings said Johnson is prepared to suspend Parliament or hold an election to thwart those who may seek to block a no-deal Brexit.
Michael Gove, a Johnson ally writing in the Times, said all agencies will work “flat-out” to prepare to leave without an agreement on the future U.K.-EU relationship, and he hopes Brussels will reconsider its decision against reopening talks. “We still hope they will change their minds, but must operate on the assumption that they will not,” he wrote. Gove will lead daily meetings — weekends included — of civil servants and advisers until ties with the EU are cut, the newspaper said.
Johnson’s efforts to renegotiate the withdrawal deal struck by his predecessor Theresa May have been rejected by EU leaders. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told Johnson that the withdrawal agreement — which Parliament has rejected three times — was the “best and only agreement possible.”
Johnson spoke Friday with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a bid to change the minds of EU leaders.
A new poll showed Johnson’s Conservative Party has a slim statistical lead over the Labour Party in the latest ComRes poll for the Sunday Express. The July 24-25 survey is the first to show a Tory lead since early March and gives the Brexit Party its lowest projected vote share since they were included in the survey in May, according to ComRes.
A majority in the poll, 55 percent, said Johnson will make a terrible prime minister, with 64 percent saying he would be better than Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. But 72 percent said he should be given a chance to deliver Brexit before new elections are called or the government is toppled.
“While the public agree that he should be given the necessary time to deliver Brexit, a majority are skeptical as to how good he may be as prime minister,” said Chris Hopkins, ComRes head of politics.
Johnson on Saturday reiterated that the Irish backstop portion of the agreement — which he said seeks to divide the U.K. — needs to be dropped from the divorce plan before a broader Brexit deal can be reached.
The new leader in a speech in Manchester said he is confident a deal can be reached, noting he has good relations with many European leaders and is “mystified” by reports claiming otherwise. The backstop provision is hated by many Brexiteers — Johnson included.
In a separate development, May’s former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, met with Labour Party Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer and they agreed to work on plan to block leaving the EU without a deal, the Observer reported.
Starmer, of the opposition party, confirmed that Johnson’s rise to the nation’s top political office had “spurred more cross-party discussions at high levels involving senior Tories sacked by Johnson.” Hammond quit his post before Johnson took office.
The Times reported that Johnson will make every decision on Brexit policy with a team of just senior ministers — all Brexiteers who support no deal. The group is Gove, Chancellor Sajid Javid, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox.