British prime minister Boris Johnson's vow to leave the European Union (EU) by 31 October and his claim of making a "huge amount of progress" seems to have no takers among the Opposition, and even among some in his own party, after Parliament was suspended till 14 October.
Indeed, the extent of opposition to Johnson's approach was laid bare Saturday when one of his Conservative MPs defected to the pro-European Liberal Democrats, who on Sunday toughened its anti-Brexit stance, formally adopting a policy to stop the country from leaving the European Union if it wins power in a national election.
The party holds just 18 seats in Britain’s 650-seat parliament but has cast itself as the only ‘Stop Brexit’ party, hoping to pick up votes from the 16 million who voted to remain in the EU in 2016 and win enough seats to form what would be an unprecedented Liberal Democrat government. The Liberal Democrats party conference on Sunday voted to formally adopt a policy to revoke the ‘Article 50’ notice filed in March 2017 which notified the EU of Britain’s intention to quit the bloc. This would effectively cancel Brexit.
“We will put an end there and then to the Brexit nightmare that is dragging the whole country down and tearing us apart, and start immediately tackling the reasons people voted to leave in the first place,” the party’s Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said. As a party which has never won more than 62 seats at an election, the prospect of party leader Jo Swinson forming a government is a long way off, even though British politics is at its most unpredictable juncture in decades.
'Shame on you'
These events unfolded after a turbulent past few weeks in British politics. Last week, rebel Conservatives joined Opposition MPs to rush through a law to delay Brexit until January if he does not get a deal in time. On Tuesday, the House of Commons saw angry and unprecedented protests as Opposition leaders raged at Johnson, chanting "shame on you" and holding up signs reading "silenced" as parliament formally shut down.
As legislators implored House of Commons Speaker John Bercow not to comply, he expressed his displeasure, saying "this is not a standard or normal prorogation."
"It's one of the longest for decades and it represents ... an act of executive fiat," Bercow said.
The suspension came after lawmakers inflicted a series of defeats on Johnson's Brexit plans. Johnson says the country must leave the EU at the end of October, with or without a divorce agreement to smooth the way. But many lawmakers fear a no-deal Brexit would be economically devastating, and are determined to stop him.
Opposition legislators, backed by rebels in Johnson's Conservative Party, passed a law that compels the government to ask the EU for a three-month delay if no deal has been agreed by 19 October. "I will not ask for another delay," Johnson said.
Few options for prime minister
But he has few easy ways out of it. His options — all of them extreme — include disobeying the law, which could land him in court or even prison, and resigning so that someone else would have to ask for a delay.
Legislators also demanded the government release, by Wednesday, emails and text messages among aides and officials relating to suspending parliament and planning for Brexit amid allegations that the suspension is being used to circumvent democracy. Under parliamentary rules, the government is obliged to release the documents. In a statement, the government said it would "consider the implications of this vote and respond in due course."
Then, early Tuesday, lawmakers rebuffed, for a second time, Johnson's request for an early election, which he said was "the only way to break the deadlock in the House." Opposition parties voted against the measure or abstained, denying Johnson the two-thirds majority he needed. They want t make sure a no-deal departure is blocked before agreeing to an election, making a vote before November unlikely.
'Won't allow Johnson to dictate terms'
Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn accused Johnson of seeking to crash out of the EU and seek a "one-sided" trade deal with the United States that would damage Britain. "A no-deal Brexit is really a Trump-deal Brexit," Corbyn told a union conference. "No-one can trust the word of a prime minister who is threatening to break the law to force through no-deal. So a general election is coming. But we won't allow Johnson to dictate the terms."
Johnson has acknowledged that a no-deal Brexit "would be a failure of statecraft" for which he would be partially to blame. He said he believed a deal could be struck by 18 October, when leaders of all 28 EU countries hold a summit in Brussels. Ursula von der Leyen, who will replace the current president of the EU's executive branch, Jean-Claude Juncker, in November, said a no-deal Brexit "will be way more difficult than an orderly Brexit."
Von der Leyen said Tuesday that the EU is ready for a no-deal Brexit that would see tariffs and other impediments imposed on trade between the bloc and Britain. But she insisted "it's not in our common interest." The EU says Britain has not produced any concrete proposals for replacing the contentious "backstop," a provision in the withdrawal agreement reached by Johnson's predecessor Theresa May that is designed to ensure an open border between EU member Ireland and the UK's Northern Ireland.
An open border is crucial to the regional economy and underpins the peace process that ended decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. Opposition to the backstop was a key reason parliament rejected May's Brexit deal with the EU three times earlier this year.
British Brexit supporters oppose the backstop because it locks Britain into EU trade rules to avoid customs checks, something they say will stop the UK from striking new trade deals with countries such as the United States.
Johnson met Tuesday with Arlene Foster, leader of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, which props up his Conservative minority government. The DUP is staunchly opposed to the backstop, which it says undermines the bonds between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Sep 17, 2019 14:04:33 IST