Boris Johnson defiant on EU departure date
Boris Johnson has remained defiant he will not delay the UK’s departure from the EU, giving his strongest hint to date that he might provoke another EU member state into blocking a further Brexit delay.
As the Conservative party gathered for its annual conference on Sunday, the prime minister indicated that if he was forced by MPs to request another Brexit extension through the Benn Act — legislation that would force him to avoid a no-deal — other EU members might seek to expel the UK if it became unco-operative.
“It is certainly true that other EU countries also don’t want this thing to keep dragging on. They don’t want the UK to remain in the EU truculent and mutinous and in a limbo and not wishing to co-operate in a way they would like,” he told the BBC.
As the clock ticks towards October 31, EU leaders are becoming increasingly bleak about the possibility of a new Brexit deal being struck.
Antti Rinne, prime minister of Finland, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, described the UK’s political situation as a “mess” in which the divisions ran not only between parties but within them.
“It seems to me that there is not leadership,” said Mr Rinne in an interview with the Financial Times following meetings with EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier on Friday.
As such, it was unclear how a new deal would clinch parliamentary support — even if one could be agreed between Mr Johnson and the other 27 EU member states.
“We need a written proposal, not just soft talk. I know there were some non-papers from the UK side, but they are not yet a solution,” he added, referring to proposals sent by Britain that EU diplomats see as inadequate.
Mr Johnson on Sunday refused to comment on the details of any talks he had held with other EU heads of state because they were “interesting but also delicate”. But the prime minister did not rule out asking another EU nation to block an extension, if he were forced into a request by parliament or the courts. He also firmly stated he would not be resigning.
The Benn Act, named after Labour MP Hilary Benn, which was passed by opposition MPs this month, compels the prime minister to seek a three-month extension to Article 50 if he cannot get a Brexit deal agreed by the end of the European Council meeting on October 19.
Ministers have said Mr Johnson will not break the law but will seek to find ways around it.
Mr Johnson has labelled the Benn legislation the “Surrender Act”, arguing that it hands power over the timetable of the UK’s departure to the EU. His use of this term has been widely criticised by opposition MPs, who blame the prime minister’s tough rhetoric for heightening tensions and adding to the toxic atmosphere in Westminster.
But he defended his use of “surrender”, arguing that politicians should not be prevented from using straightforward language.
“I think you will find that the speeches of most politicians for centuries have been studded with the use of military metaphor.”
Mr Johnson also called for a calmer political atmosphere. “I think everyone should calm down . . . I think I’m the model of restraint,” he said, adding that “we haven’t got a prayer of uniting the country until we get Brexit over the line”.
The prime minister did apologise for saying “humbug” in response to the safety concerns of a female Labour MP who invoked the memory of Jo Cox, the MP who was murdered during the referendum campaign. “In that case, that was a total misunderstanding. I can certainly say sorry for the misunderstanding.”
Mr Johnson also denied any impropriety over his friendship with businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri, who reportedly received grants and preferential access to trade missions while he served as mayor of London.
The prime minister said “there was no interest to declare” and suggested that Sadiq Khan, his successor at City Hall, was peddling allegations about Ms Arcuri for political reasons.