World / Politics

Embattled Johnson proceeds with Brexit plan despite Tory turmoil

Bloomberg

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson will press on with his plan to deliver Brexit by Oct. 31, senior ministers said, despite defeats in Parliament and the sudden resignation of Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd with a furious attack on his leadership.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Sunday that the Brexit plan is unchanged — even though Parliament passed a law requiring Johnson to ask the European Union for an extension on Oct. 19 if he can’t get a deal by then.

“The prime minister is sticking to his guns,” Raab told Sky News, adding that Johnson will visit Dublin for talks on Monday. “We’re going to keep going on with the negotiations, we know we want a deal by the end of October, but we must leave come what may.”

Rudd’s resignation plunged Johnson’s six-week-old administration deeper into turmoil after a dramatic and disastrous week in which members of Parliament voted against a no-deal divorce then refused to grant him the emergency general election he wanted. And to cap it off his own brother, Jo, resigned from the government in protest at his plans.

The loss of Rudd, one of the most senior members of his team, and a key pro-European voice in the Cabinet, will add to the pressure. He is facing calls to abandon his aggressive stance toward his opponents and to drop his central pledge to exit the EU “do or die” at the end of next month.

The former work and pensions secretary accused Johnson of “political vandalism,” after he expelled 21 Tory lawmakers from the party, and said he is not trying hard enough to secure a Brexit agreement with the EU.

“I have not seen enough work going into actually trying to get a deal,” Rudd told BBC TV. “When earlier in the week I asked Number 10 for a summary of what the planning was for actually getting a deal I was sent a one-page summary.”

Javid insisted that Johnson “is putting all the effort you would expect from a leader” into trying to get a new agreement with the bloc. There is a proposal to be put to EU negotiators, but it’s too early to make it public, Javid said. Officials in Brussels say they have received no suggestions for a way forward from the U.K.

“I do know there’s a proposal and it would be madness to start talking about it in public,” Javid said in an interview with the BBC. “The prime minister set up a small group so we can move quickly and move at pace as the EU changes its position.”

The Sunday Times reported that Johnson is planning to defy the law passed in Parliament requiring him to seek an extension, setting up a showdown in the Supreme Court after the Oct. 19 deadline expires. It will then be a race against time to get clarity before the U.K. crashes out of the EU without a deal on Oct. 31.

Raab said the government will “test to the limit” of what the law requires. Javid appeared to confirm that Johnson plans to run down the clock, emphasizing that he has until after the EU summit, on Oct. 17 and 18, before he has to act.

“He will absolutely not be asking for an extension in that meeting,” Javid said of the gathering of EU leaders. “Should we get to that point we will look at our options. We will not change our policy.”

Johnson “will obey all laws,” he added, without explaining how that would be possible without a change of policy.

Shami Chakrabarti, who speaks on legal affairs for the opposition Labour Party, said Johnson has no choice.

“The legislation is crystal clear, if you don’t have a deal in the next few weeks you have to apply for the extension,” she told Sky News. “It’s a duty that’s laid in the legislation on the prime minister personally.”

On Monday, Johnson will again ask Parliament to call an election, which he wants on Oct. 15, as he tries to navigate a way out of the stalemate. But opposition parties have said they won’t back the motion — which needs a two-thirds majority in the House of Commons — because they don’t trust the prime minister.

“If on Monday we vote for the motion that Boris Johnson has put forward, that retains in his hands the timing of that election,” John McDonnell, Labour’s Treasury spokesman, told the BBC. “We have to then trust him not to push us over the edge of a no deal. If his own brother can’t trust him, how can we?”

Johnson’s office launched a social media campaign last week accusing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn of being a “chicken” for refusing to back an election. McDonnell said Labour is keen for an election, but only after a further Brexit delay is secured.

The latest Yougov poll, published over the weekend, suggests a hefty chunk of the electorate still backs Johnson’s strategy, with support for the Tories unchanged at 35 percent.

But Jeremy Hunt, who lost out to Johnson in the final round of the Tory leadership election in July, warned that the divisions in the party won’t help it win support from voters.

To win an election, there needs to be “a cold shower of generosity and magnanimity from all,” Hunt wrote on Twitter. “Divided parties don’t win elections and we’ll NEVER be forgiven if Corbyn gets in.”