In Boris Johnson’s new move on Brexit, 2 letters to European union. What they say

UK PM Boris Johnson’s contradictory letters – the one seeking extension without his signature, and the other arguing against extension signed by him – has been called ‘silly’ by critics.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson sent two contradictory letters to the EU.(AP)
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson sent two contradictory letters to the EU.(AP)
Updated on Oct 20, 2019 06:58 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, London | By

Bruised by Saturday’s defeat in the House of Commons, Prime Minister Boris Johnson sent two contradictory letters to the European Union: one, to ask to extend the Brexit deadline of October 31 as the law requires, and another to argue against the same extension.

The unseemly missives to Brussels – called ‘silly’ and the work of a ‘spoiled brat’ by critics – were prompted by the law enacted in September that forces the government to seek the extension if a Brexit agreement is not passed in the House by 11 pm on October 19.

The Johnson government suffered a major setback on Saturday when an amendment was passed to ensure that parliament withholds approval of the prime minister’s Brexit deal reached last Thursday until the withdrawal bill implementing Brexit has been passed. it was seen by Johnson and ministers as a way of further delay Brexit.

But on Sunday Johnson and his ministers insisted that the United Kingdom will leave the EU on October 31 by passing the raft of legislation needed to be able to do so by the deadline. They now claim to have the numbers to have it passed in parliament.

However, since there are effectively only eight sitting days in parliament before the October 31 deadline, getting voluminous legislation passed to implement the agreement will be a challenge for the government; every motion will also be subject to amendments.

Johnson’s contradictory letters – the one seeking the extension without his signature, and the other arguing against extension signed by him – may also land in courts next week, since rebels, opposition MPs and campaigners believe they go against the spirit of the law.

Johnson wrote in the signed letter to Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, that extending the Brexit deadline would be “corrosive” in attempts to deliver on the vote of the 2016 referendum to leave the EU.

Michael Gove, effectively the deputy prime minister, accused MPs who backed Saturday’s amendment of “explicitly to try to frustrate this process and to drag it out,” adding that Johnson is determined to meet the October 31 deadline.

However, Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer told the BBC on Sunday: “The law is very clear. He should have signed one letter in accordance with the law”, while an unnamed former Conservative cabinet minister told the media the letters will put government law officers in a difficult position.

Labour has already extended support to potential amendments seeking to subject Brexit legislation to what is called a ‘confirmatory referendum’: the condition that it can be implemented only if the agreement is approved in another referendum.

A no-confidence motion in the minority Johnson government is also on the cards after the Scottish National Party announced its intention to move it on Sunday. These and other parliamentary devices used by critics will further challenge the government’s ability to pass the required legislation by the October 31 deadline.

Another mid-term election and the referendum are among options that may result from the cut-and-thrust in parliament next week, amid reports from various parts of the UK and Europe that a ‘Brexit fatigue’ has set in among the people and leaders.


    Prasun Sonwalkar was Editor (UK & Europe), Hindustan Times. During more than three decades, he held senior positions on the Desk, besides reporting from India’s north-east and other states, including a decade covering politics from New Delhi. He has been reporting from UK and Europe since 1999.

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