LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will again try to put his Brexit deal to a vote in parliament on Monday after he was forced by his opponents to send a letter seeking a delay from the European Union.
FILE PHOTO: Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks at the House of Commons as parliament discusses Brexit, sitting on a Saturday for the first time since the 1982 Falklands War, in London, Britain, October 19, 2019, in this screen grab taken from video. Parliament TV via REUTERS
With just 10 days left until the United Kingdom is due to leave the EU on Oct. 31, the divorce is again in disarray as Britain’s political class argue over whether to leave with a deal, exit without a deal or hold another referendum.
Johnson was ambushed by opponents in parliament on Saturday who demanded a change to the sequencing of the ratification of the deal, exposing the prime minister to a law which demanded he request a delay until Jan. 31.
In a twist that illustrates the extent to which Brexit has strained the norms of British statecraft, Johnson sent the note to the EU unsigned – and added another signed letter arguing against what he cast as a deeply corrosive delay.
“A further extension would damage the interests of the UK and our EU partners, and the relationship between us,” Johnson said his own letter, signed “Boris Johnson”.
The British government insisted on Sunday the country will leave the EU on Oct. 31, and plans to put the deal to a vote in parliament later on Monday though it is unclear if the House of Commons speaker will allow such a vote.
The government has proposed a debate on the deal, according to the House of Commons order paper which says the speaker will make a statement on the proceedings shortly after parliament opens at 1330 GMT.
Speaker John Bercow is thought to be unlikely to allow it on the grounds that this would repeat Saturday’s debate, but he has not yet given his formal decision.
Sterling, which has rallied more than 6% since Oct. 10, slid from five-month highs on Monday. It hit as low as $1.2850 in Asian trading before settling around $1.2920 GBP=D3 in London, down 0.5% on the day.
Goldman Sachs raised the probability of the United Kingdom leaving with a ratified deal to 70% from 65%, cut its view of the chances of a “no-deal” Brexit to 5% from 10% and left its view on no Brexit at all unchanged at 25%.
The EU, which has grappled with the tortuous Brexit crisis since Britons voted 52%-48% to leave in a 2016 referendum, was clearly bewildered by the contradictory signals from London.
With Brexit up in the air, the bloc’s ambassadors decided on Sunday to play for time rather than rush to decide on Johnson’s request.
From the EU’s point of view, extension options range from just an additional month until the end of November to half a year or longer.
“We’re looking for more clarity towards the end of the week, hoping that by that time we will also see how things develop in London,” one senior EU diplomat said.
It was unlikely that the EU’s 27 remaining member states would refuse Britain’s request to delay once again its departure, given the impact on all parties of a no-deal Brexit.
In London, Johnson’s ministers said they were confident they had the numbers to push a deal through parliament where opponents were plotting to derail the deal he had assured the EU that he could ratify.
The opposition Labour Party was planning changes to the deal that would make it unacceptable to swathes of Johnson’s own party including a proposals for another referendum.
Johnson’s former allies, the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) have indicated they could back a proposal for a customs union with the EU – a step that, if passed, would doom Johnson’s deal, The Daily Telegraph reported.
“Foolish or mendacious members of parliament have continually moved the goalposts and taken away the compression of a deadline,” hardline Brexit supporter Steve Baker said.
If Johnson’s deal is wrecked just days before the United Kingdom’s planned departure, it would leave Johnson a choice: leave without a deal or accept a delay.
Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Toby Chopra and Angus MacSwan