Wednesday

25th May 2022

UK: light goes out in House of Commons

British prime minister Boris Johnson insisted in the early hours of Tuesday (10 September) that he would not request an extension to the Brexit deadline.

His defiant comments came hours after a law came into force outlawing a no-deal Brexit and demanding that he asks for a delay in Britain's withdrawal from the EU until 2020 - prompting concerns about Johnson's commitment to the rule of law.

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British MPs also once again rejected Johnson's call for a snap election as a five-week suspension of parliament began.

"This government will press on with negotiating a deal, while preparing to leave without one," Johnson told MPs.

"I will go to that crucial summit on 17 October and no matter how many devices this parliament invents to tie my hands, I will strive to get an agreement in the national interest ... This government will not delay Brexit any further," he said.

Johnson was also heavily criticised for ignoring the new law and curbing any parliamentary oversight by suspending the parliament until 14 October.

Responding to concerns the government could ignore the legislation, foreign minister Dominic Raab earlier told MPs that the government would respect the rule of law, but added, "sometimes it can be more complex because there are conflicting laws or competing legal advice."

A snap election would be "constitutionally the correct course of action" and the only way to break the deadlock in parliament, Raab said.

But MPs refused, for the second time, Johnson's call for a general election, meaning the prime minister lost all six votes in the parliament since MPs returned from their summer break last week.

Johnson accused opposition Labour of "preposterous cowardice" and negating their constitutional duty by not agreeing to a general election.

Meanwhile, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn argued that Labour is not "walking into traps laid by this prime minister" and that a no-deal Brexit needed to be taken off the table.

Corbyn also called on Johnson to respect the rule of law and ask for an extension from EU leaders.

What next?

Johnson's team have, in theory, several avenues to avoid asking for a delay.

For instance, Johnson could call for a no-confidence vote on his government, or he could resign, or ask a renegade EU member, such as Poland, to block the extension request - although breaking EU unity that would be a highly risky move for any EU member state.

France's foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned over the weekend that the EU will not deal Brexit endlessly, and Dutch trade minister Sigrid Kaag said on Monday also said the EU is growing impatient with London.

However, if Johnson were to ask for a delay, the EU would be expected to grant it as the bloc does not want to be blamed for a no-deal rupture.

The EU has also been frustrated by London's lack of concrete proposals on the Irish border question, and its apparent unwillingness to engage in meaningful negotiations.

Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier will brief leaders of the European Parliament's political groups on Tuesday about the recent developments.

Earlier on Monday, Johnson met with Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar in Dublin, where the British prime minister promised proposals on the Irish border issue without giving any details.

"I want to find a deal, I want to get a deal," Johnson said, adding that there was plenty of time to find one before the mid-October EU summit.

"We are open to alternatives, but they must be realistic ones, legally-binding and workable, and we haven't received such proposals to date," Varadkar said.

'Silenced'

There were dramatic scenes in the House of Commons as the parliament started its prorogation on Monday night.

Opposition MPs for a brief period tried to prevent John Bercow, the speaker of the house, from leaving his post in an attempt to stop the suspension process.

Signs saying "silenced" were held up by the group in front of Bercow.

Conservative MPs left the chamber amid cries of "Shame on you!" from opposition Labour MPs.

Bercow, who announced that he would step down at the end of October as speaker of the House of Commons, also criticised the parliament's suspension.

"[It is] not a normal prorogation. It is not typical. It is not standard. It's one of the longest for decades and it represents an act of executive fiat," he told MPs.

Lawmakers also passed a motion on Monday calling for the Johnson's government to reveal documents discussing the suspension of parliament, and publish the government's no-deal planning.

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