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Boris Johnson ‘Would Rather Be Dead’ Than Delay Split: Brexit Update

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 9/5/2019 Alex Morales, Kitty Donaldson and Jessica Shankleman

(Bloomberg) --

Boris Johnson’s six-week-old premiership was thrown into yet more disarray after his brother quit the government in protest at his Brexit strategy. After three days of humiliation, the beleaguered prime minister launched a fightback in a speech in northern England, appealing directly to the public for an election to resolve Britain’s political crisis. He said he would “rather be dead in a ditch” than ask the European Union to delay Brexit again.

Key Developments:

Minister Jo Johnson resigns, citing tension between “family loyalty and the “national interest”Johnson making appeal for election Prime Minister will try again to persuade MPs to trigger an early general election on MondayHouse of Lords debating bill to block no-deal Brexit until FridaySplits appear in cabinet over Johnson’s tacticsThe pound rose 0.6%

U.K. Said to Want to Unpick Deal (6:05 p.m.)

Boris Johnson wants to remove several parts of the deal that was struck between the U.K. and EU in November, according to an official briefed on Wednesday’s negotiations in Brussels.

David Frost, Johnson’s envoy, told the European Commission the U.K. wants to:

Remove many articles of the contentious Irish border “backstop,” leaving only provisions on citizens’ rights, the common travel area and single electricity market on the island of Ireland. He didn’t say what the U.K. wanted in its place.Take out references in the political declaration on the future relationship to the “level playing field” which would keep the U.K. aligned to many of the EU’s standards. The EU says this is necessary for an ambitious free-trade agreementChange the way the agreement would be governed to take out references to the European Court of Justice. The EU said this would affect future police and judicial cooperation.

Johnson Doubles Down on Push for Oct. 15 Election (6 p.m.)

Boris Johnson pledged to hold a general election on Oct. 15, or even earlier, if opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn wants that. The prime minister was responding to a question about whether he can be trusted not to shift the date of an election in order to take the U.K. out of the EU without a deal.

“We want an election on October 15 and indeed earlier if he wants: :Let’s crack on with it,” Johnson said. “If he wants to avoid a no-deal Brexit, or if he wants to avoid a hard Brexit then he should believe in himself to go to Brussels on Oct. 17 to that crucial summit and sort it out.”

The premier said the current situation is unsustainable. “I really don’t see how you can have a situation in which the British ability to negotiate is absolutely torpedoed by Parliament in this way, with powers of the British people handed over to Brussels so that we can be kept incarcerated in the EU without that actually being put to the people in the form of a vote,” he said.

Johnson Glosses Over Split With Brother (5:35 p.m.)

Johnson was asked about his brother Jo’s decision to quit the government earlier in the day, citing a conflict between family loyalties and the national interest (see 11:30 a.m.). He glossed over questions about whether he was acting in the national interest and said “people disagree about the EU.”

“Jo doesn’t agree with me about the EU because it’s an issue obviously that divides families, that divides everybody,” said Johnson, before noting that his brother supports his wider agenda for the country.

The premier also said he’d spoken to his brother earlier in the day, and praised his service as a minister for science and universities.

Johnson: ‘Rather be Dead’ Than Delay Brexit (5:30 p.m.)

Johnson said he would “rather be dead in a ditch” than ask for a delay in Brexit beyond Oct. 31.

Answering questions after a speech in northern England, Johnson said he guaranteed that he wouldn’t ask for an extension from the EU while he is prime minister. But he dodged the question when he was asked if this meant he would resign rather than sign up to another delay.

Johnson Makes Plea For Election (5:18 p.m.)

Johnson is making a speech at a police academy in the north of England in which he is expected to make a plea for a general election.

He will also reassert his pledge to recruit 20,000 police officers and trumpet his commitment to law and order as he gets a head start in the campaign for votes.

But on a stage with dozens of police officers, his surroundings may be a gift to opponents who have accused him of staging a “coup” by suspending Parliament -- and to sketch writers likely to suggest he’s taking his commitment to “taking back control” to a new level.

Johnson to Meet Varadkar on Monday (4:45 p.m.)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will travel to Dublin early on Monday to meet his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar. He’ll return to London in time to be in the House of Commons for the key vote on a general election in the evening, his spokeswoman, Alison Donnelly, told reporters.

U.K. Offers Banks $1.6b to Guarantee Brexit Loans (3:45 p.m.)

Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom and other senior ministers met with lenders including HSBC, Lloyds and Barclays on Thursday to encourage them to support small and medium-sized companies through Brexit.

The state-backed British Business Bank has 1.3 billion pounds ($1.6 billion) available to help banks lend money to businesses that need it, the Business Department said in an emailed statement. “Lenders must empower their SME customers to seize the huge variety of opportunities that lie ahead as we leave the EU on October 3,” Leadsom said.

Leadsom was joined in the meeting by Michael Gove, the cabinet minister in charge of no-deal Brexit preparations, Economic Secretary to the Treasury John Glen and Small Business Minister Kelly Tolhurst. Other lenders included Bibby Financial Services, Virgin Money, Metro Bank, RBS, Santander and TSB.

Johnson Calls Corbyn ‘Chlorinated Chicken’ Again (1:15 p.m.)

Boris Johnson met U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in Downing Street, and used the opportunity -- while talking about a future free-trade deal -- to make the same joke as Wednesday when he called opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn a chicken because he didn’t vote for an early general election .

“We will make sure we do everything we can to increase free trade,’’ Johnson told Pence. “The National Health Service is not on the table as far as our negotiations go -- we’re not too keen on that chlorinated chicken either. We have a gigantic chlorinated chicken already here on the opposition bench.”

Pence said the U.S. is “ready, willing and able” to offer the U.K. a trade deal.

No-Deal Bill to Get Rapid Royal Assent (1:15 p.m.)

Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg said that the bill passed by MPs last night blocking a no-deal Brexit will get royal assent -- come into law -- “speedily” once it is debated for the final time in the Commons on Monday. The bill is currently in the House of Lords, and is due to return to the Commons, potentially with amendments, by Friday evening.

Gove Sees Johnson Resignation as Unlikely (1:05 p.m.)

Michael Gove, the Cabinet minister in charge of no-deal planning, is still speaking to the House of Commons committee on Brexit. Asked whether Boris Johnson would resign rather than ask for another delay, he said: “I don’t think the prime minister has any intention of resigning.”

Under legislation working its way through Parliament, Johnson would be compelled to seek a delay to Brexit if by Oct. 19 he’s failed to secure a new Brexit deal or persuade MPs to back a departure without a deal. The premier said in reaction: “I refuse to do this.” Instead, he wants a general election before then -- but MPs refused to vote for one.

That means if Johnson fails to secure an election, on Oct. 19 he’d be faced with the conundrum of either writing the letter or disobeying the law.

Berger: Not Clear Where She’ll Stand for Lib Dems (1 p.m.)

Luciana Berger, who joined the Liberal Democrats as an MP Thursday, said it was not yet clear if she will stand in the district of Liverpool Wavertree at the next election because of the party’s localized decision-making structure. It’s “not a decision for me,’’ she told Sky News. “I’d like to remain making a contribution to public life.’’

Berger quit the Labour Party in February citing anti-Semitic bullying. She has remained as an independent candidate until today. The Liverpool Wavertree district has a strong Labour history and the Liberal Democrats have already selected a candidate for the area.

MPs Will Vote Again on Early Election (12:50 p.m.)

Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg laid out a list of motions that will be debated in the House of Commons on Monday, culminating in a “motion relating to an early parliamentary general election.”

It will be a second attempt by the government to force an early general election -- the next one currently isn’t due until 2022. Late on Wednesday, Johnson tried and failed to secure the 434 votes he needs -- two thirds of the House of Commons -- to call a ballot.

Opposition parties declined to approve of an election because they want a bill to pass into law that would stave off a no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31. By Monday, that bill is likely to have passed into law, and the government’s calculation is that opposition parties may then swing behind his demand for a fresh election.

Rees-Mogg also said that all bills needed for the U.K. to leave the European Union are in place.

Gove Says New Brexit Deal Can Be Secured (12:35 p.m.)

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove, who’s in charge of no-deal Brexit preparations, said the changes to the Brexit agreement being sought by Johnson are “eminently achievable.’’

He said that while he would support former Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal if it came back to the house of Commons for another vote, the changes Johnson is seeking would mark a “material improvement” in the deal. They are to strip out the Irish backstop, and alter the political declaration to make clear Britain would be outside the customs union and single market. He also said the U.K. wants a free-trade agreement with the bloc.

Gove was giving evidence to the House of Commons Exiting the European Union Committee. He earlier said that the Operation Yellowhammer document spelling out the potential impact of a no-deal exit that was leaked to the Sunday Times last month represented a “reasonable worst-case scenario,” and not a base-case prediction. He said there was no evidence to suggest former Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond could have been behind the leak.

Business Secretary to Meet With Banks (11:40 a.m.)

Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom will meet later Thursday with executives from the country’s main banks to discuss their support for small and medium-sized companies through Brexit, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman, James Slack, told reporters in London.

Johnson Wants Election Before Oct. 17 EU Council (11:35 a.m.)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will say in a speech this afternoon that he wants an election before the EU council meeting on Oct. 17, his spokesman James Slack said.

“The prime minister believes we should have the election before the EU council and asks MPs to reflect on the sustainability of their position,’’ Slack told reporters. “Having chosen to introduce a bill that destroys our negotiating position,’’ he said, politicians “ must take responsibility for their actions.”

Jo Johnson wearing a suit and tie: U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May Friendly Fire As Parliament Returns © Bloomberg U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May Friendly Fire As Parliament Returns

Jo Johnson

Johnson’s Brother Quits Over Strategy (11:30 a.m.)

Boris Johnson’s own brother, Jo Johnson, said he’s quitting the government and his seat in Parliament because of differences with the prime minister.

“In recent weeks I’ve been torn between family loyalty and the national interest,” Jo Johnson said on Twitter. “It’s an unresolvable tension & time for others to take on my roles as MP & Minister. #overandout.”

The departure is a severe blow to the prime minister at a time when he’s alienated the moderate wing of his party by expelling 21 MPs on Tuesday because they voted against the government in order to stave off the risk of a no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31.

Jo Johnson is a longstanding pro-European -- and had quit as a minister under former Prime Minister Theresa May because he believed the country needed a second referendum on Brexit. It raised eyebrows when he agreed to serve in his brother’s government -- because the premier was the figurehead of the Leave campaign in the 2016 referendum.

Former Labour MP Berger Joins Liberal Democrats (11 a.m.)

While Johnson has been expelling MPs from his party, Parliament’s fourth party, the Liberal Democrats keep growing. Luciana Berger, who quit Labour earlier in the year, said on Thursday she’s joined the Liberal Democrats.

It’s the party’s second addition of the week, after Philip Lee’s defection from the Conservatives on Tuesday deprived Johnson of his majority. They now have 16 MPs.

Javid Hopes Rebels Can Return (9:30 a.m.)

Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid said he wants the 21 rebels expelled from the Conservative Party on Tuesday to be reinstated, though he also added Johnson had “no choice” but to fire them.

Sajid Javid wearing a suit and tie: Election Looms As U.K. PM Johnson Raises Stakes © Bloomberg Election Looms As U.K. PM Johnson Raises Stakes

Sajid Javid

Javid’s comments follow reports of an argument in cabinet this week in which a group of senior ministers, led by no-deal Brexit minister Michael Gove, demanded that Johnson should give the rebels a way back into the party. The prime minister refused.

“I would like to see those colleagues come back at some point,” Javid told LBC radio. “They are not just my colleagues; these are my friends, they are good Conservatives.”

Javid said it was right for Johnson to make Tuesday’s vote -- allowing Parliament to seize the legislative timetable in order to block a no-deal Brexit -- a matter of confidence in the government. Those who voted against it knew the “consequences,” he said.

Swinson Wants Extension Before Election (9 a.m.)

Liberal Democrat Leader Jo Swinson said she wants a general election only after an extension to Brexit has been agreed with Brussels.

She said she believes Johnson wants an election before his exit deadline of Oct. 31 so he can take the U.K. out of the EU without a deal and blame Brussels for the failure to get an agreement.

“He’s frightened of being found out,” she told Sky News. “He’s got an opportunity to go and get that great deal he said he could get and get it past Parliament, but he’s frightened to do that.”

Caroline Nokes, one of the MPs expelled from the Tory Party on Tuesday, also said Johnson shouldn’t rush a national vote. “It’s really cynical to try to force through an election,” she said. “The tool we need in Parliament is time.”

Labour ‘Consulting’ on Election Timing (Earlier)

Labour Treasury Spokesman John McDonnell said the party is consulting with its own MPs and other parties over the best timing for a general election.

While some want a national vote once a law against a no-deal Brexit is enacted, others want to wait until after a further delay to Jan. 31 has been secured before going to the country. None of the opposition parties have any confidence that Johnson will keep to his word, he said in media interviews on Thursday morning.

“We have to be the adults in the room,” McDonnell said, after comparing Johnson to a toddler having a tantrum. Labour wants to keep “as much control as we possibly over the date of that election,” he told Sky News.

Earlier:

Johnson Boxed In Over Brexit as Bill Is Pushed Through Lords

Pound Rally Stalls After Lawmakers Reject Johnson’s Brexit Plans

Brussels Edition: No Deal for Boris

--With assistance from Justin Sink, Ian Wishart and Thomas Penny.

To contact the reporters on this story: Alex Morales in London at amorales2@bloomberg.net;Kitty Donaldson in London at kdonaldson1@bloomberg.net;Jessica Shankleman in Wakefield at jshankleman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tim Ross at tross54@bloomberg.net, Stuart Biggs, Mark Williams

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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