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UK PM Boris Johnson Seeks Snap Election to Break Brexit Deadlock

His government said it would make a second attempt on Monday to trigger the national polls after the opposition Labour party on Wednesday helped block Johnson's first bid.

AFP

Updated:September 5, 2019, 11:14 PM IST
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UK PM Boris Johnson Seeks Snap Election to Break Brexit Deadlock
File image of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
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London: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on Thursday for an early election after a flurry of parliamentary votes tore up his hardline Brexit strategy and left him without a majority.

His government said it would make a second attempt on Monday to trigger the national polls after the opposition Labour party on Wednesday helped block Johnson's first bid. "It is now time for the people to decide after parliament has failed them so we can resolve this once and for all," a Downing Street spokesman said.

The vote's timing is still being debated as the country hurtles toward an October 31 departure from the European Union without a plan for what comes next. The prime minister was dealt a further personal blow when his brother Jo said he was quitting his junior ministerial role and not contesting his seat in parliament in the new ballot.

"I've been torn between family loyalty and the national interest -- it's an unresolvable tension & time for others to take on my roles," Jo Johnson tweeted.

'Reckless' and 'Chicken'

Battle lines were drawn across the front pages of British newspapers after a particularly bruising week of UK politics did little to resolve the three-year impasse. The Labour-backing Daily Mirror branded Johnson "Britain's worst PM" for threatening a "reckless no-deal Brexit".

The Daily Mail shot back by calling Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn a "chicken" for refusing on Wednesday to back Johnson's proposal to hold a general election on October 15. An opinion poll conducted by YouGov on Monday and Tuesday showed Johnson's Conservatives leading Labour by 35 to 25 percent.

The pro-European Liberal Democrats were on 16 percent while the Brexit Party of populist Nigel Farage was in fourth place with 11 percent.

'No Real Negotiations'

Parliament is rushing through legislation designed to keep Johnson from breaking Britain off from its closest trading partners without a negotiated agreement with Brussels. MPs appeared on course to do so by Monday — a victory that would be accomplished just ahead of a five-week shutdown of parliament that Johnson controversially ordered at the end of last month.

The pound surged to a one-month high against the dollar on rising market hopes of a chaotic breakup being avoided next month. The parliamentary bill forces Johnson to seek a three-month Brexit extension until January 31 should an EU summit in Brussels on October 17-18 fail to produce a deal.

It passed the lower House of Commons with the support of 21 rebel Conservative MPs, who were promptly kicked out of the party. The upper House of Lords ended an all-night filibuster by Johnson's supporters early on Thursday and agreed to finish voting on the bill by Friday night. The bill could end up back in the House of Commons on Monday for it to consider any changes. It would then go to Queen Elizabeth II for final approval.

Johnson rose to power in July on a pledge to deliver Brexit next month — "deal or no deal" — and refuses to seek a delay. There is also no guarantee that the other 27 EU leaders will grant one for the third time this year.

"We can see that another six months would not solve the problem," France's European Affairs Minister Amelie de Montchalin said on Thursday. Greens European Parliament leader Philippe Lamberts said after a meeting with EU negotiators on Wednesday, "For all the PM's bluster about getting a deal, there are no real negotiations going on in Brussels."

'He's going to be okay'

The main debate within Labour and the smaller pro-EU parties is when to schedule Britain's third general election in four years. Labour says it will only back the poll once it is sure that Johnson is unable to take Britain out without a deal.

"The problem that we've got is that we cannot at the moment have any confidence in Boris Johnson abiding by any commitment or deal that we could construct," Labour's finance spokesman John McDonnell told BBC radio.

"So we're now consulting on whether it's better to go long therefore, rather than to go short. And that decision will be taken." The prime minister will also face a legal challenge on Thursday against his decision to order the suspension of parliament from next week until October 14.

Undeterred by the political crisis, Johnson also on Thursday hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Vice President Mike Pence. Pence told Johnson that the US was "ready, willing and able to immediately negotiate a free trade agreement with the UK" after Brexit.

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