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Britain's Johnson tries to save job and hardline Brexit

Update: September, 09/2019 - 10:46

LONDON — UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will try to save his job and his hardline Brexit strategy on Monday when he confronts parliament and his Irish counterpart in another showdown week.

The charismatic but divisive British leader finds himself facing a political impasse, just six weeks after taking over from his beleaguered predecessor Theresa May.

The new prime minister has vowed to take Britain out of the European Union after 46 years - with or without a divorce deal - by October 31, but has been blocked by parliament.

Johnson's bid to break the deadlock through a snap general election on October 15 is also facing an almost certain second successive defeat by lawmakers on Monday.

It comes after a week in which he took a battering from resignations and sackings that included his own brother and Winston Churchill's grandson, leaving him without a working majority in parliament.

Two of his most senior ministers both rejected speculation Sunday that Johnson had no real option but to resign.

But neither could say clearly how he intended to keep all his Brexit promises without somehow bending UK law.

"Of course he is not going to break the law," Foreign Minister Dominic Raab told Sky News.

"We have a plan, which is to stick to what we have been doing," Interior Minister Sajid Javid told the BBC.

'It's no!'

The chaos is being compounded by Johnson's decision to suspend parliament for over a month from some point between Monday and Thursday.

The legal but controversial step was meant to remove domestic obstacles while he uses his "no-deal" Brexit threat to wrest better divorce terms from Brussels at a leadership summit on October 17-18.

But it ended up jolting parliament into racing through legislation forcing Johnson to ask for what would be a third Brexit extension if no new deal emerges by October 19.

Raab said Johnson would "test to the limit" the law in court. European leaders are also sceptical that another delay designed to avoid economic disruption was still worth all the political pain.

"In the current circumstances, it's 'no!'," French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a Sunday political talk show in Paris.

"We are not going through this every three months."

All 28 current EU leaders would have to approve what would be the third Brexit extension this year.

Low expectations

The one EU nation that stands to lose the most from a messy breakup is Ireland.

Brussels rules require a post-Brexit border to go up along what is now an all-but invisible frontier with Britain's Nothern Ireland if no alternative arrangement is found.

The issue was meant to be resolved by a "backstop" - a complicated fudge that kept the North partially in and out of the EU while the sides sought a long-term fix.

But the backstop's inclusion ended up costing Theresa May her premiership after it was rejected by parliament three times.

Johnson pronounced it "dead" during his successful leadership campaign.

He travels to Dublin on Monday for his first official meeting with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in search a short-term compromise.

It is feared that a hard border could hit the Irish economy and jeapordise the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that brought the three-decade Northern Ireland conflict to an end.

Yet Brussels has rejected the alternative proposals aired by Johnson as either unworkable or unacceptable under EU rules.

Varadkar said he was keeping his expectations low heading into the talks.

"I don't think the meeting tomorrow is a high stakes meeting in the sense that I don't anticipate a big breakthrough tomorrow," the Irish prime minister said on Sunday.

"If we come to an agreement, that agreement will happen most likely in October at the EU summit." — AFP

 

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