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September 10, 2019

Five-week suspension of British parliament begins

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September 10, 2019

LONDON: Parliament was to be suspended for five weeks on Monday following another expected defeat by MPs for Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he battles to salvage his hardline Brexit strategy amid fierce opposition in Westminster.

The controversial suspension will begin shortly after MPs were set to vote again against Johnson’s bid to hold a snap election next month — two weeks before the country is due to leave the European Union.

“Parliament will be prorogued at close of business today,” Johnson’s spokesman said at a daily briefing, using the parliamentary term for the suspension. He added it would happen regardless of the outcome of the vote on the October 15 poll.

Johnson held talks with his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar in Dublin before returning to the parliamentary turmoil later on Monday. He ordered the shutdown in an apparent bid to stymie a cross-party block of MPs opposed to a possible no-deal Brexit.

The British leader has vowed to take Britain out of the EU by the latest October 31 deadline with or without a formal divorce deal — despite warnings that the latter scenario would entail economic chaos. However, the planned suspension has provoked uproar from opposition MPs and Conservative critics, who have labelled the move a constitutional outrage.

It appeared to backfire by galvanising them into passing legislation last week — which received royal assent on Monday — that forces Johnson to seek a Brexit delay if he fails to reach a deal at an October 17-18 EU summit.

The granting of royal assent for the legislation was announced by the Lord Speaker in the House of Lords, ahead of the suspension or prorogation of Parliament. The new Act requires a delay to Brexit beyond October 31 unless a divorce deal is approved or Parliament agrees to leaving the EU without one by October 19.

Johnson has previously branded it the “surrender Bill”, claiming it took away control of the UK’s negotiations with the EU by allowing Parliament to block

no-deal. Downing Street has said the government will obey the law, but repeated that the PM would not be seeking another extension to the Article 50 withdrawal process.

Johnson responded to the proposed law by trying to force the early general election, but fell short in a vote last week of the necessary support of two-thirds of MPs. He was set to try again later in on Monday in another vote widely expected to fail.

Opposition party leaders, who met on Monday, have vowed to keep blocking the snap poll until Brexit has been extended beyond October 31. “He has got to ask for an extension,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told Sky News. “We will do everything we can to prevent us crashing out on October 31 and will support an election when it is clear we will avoid that crashing out.”

Johnson met Varadkar on Monday hoping to lay the groundwork for new divorce terms as he finds himself increasingly cornered just six weeks after taking over from his predecessor Theresa May.

The British leader wants the bloc to scrap a special provision in the deal agreed by May to keep the Northern Irish border open in all circumstances after Brexit, arguing “alternative arrangements” exist.

But Brussels and Dublin have insisted the so-called backstop mechanism must remain in place to guarantee no return to a hard border between EU member Ireland and British-ruled Northern Ireland, which suffered decades of deadly sectarian violence.

They say Johnson is also yet to propose the details of any workable alternatives. “While they agreed that the discussions are at an early stage, common ground was established in some areas although significant gaps remain,” the two leaders said in a joint statement following an hour of talks.

Johnson’s decision to prorogue parliament until October 14 and his promise to do Brexit come what may have rattled his ruling Conservative Party.

Twenty-one Conservative MPs including Winston Churchill’s grandson were sacked last week for voting in favour of the law aimed at blocking a no-deal Brexit.

The dismissals and the defection of one MP to the Liberal Democrats left him without a working majority. Several members of his government have also quit, including his own brother.

A government minister rejected speculation on Sunday that Johnson had no real option but to resign. But he could not 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.

He added Johnson would “test to the limit” of the law in court. Rebel Conservative MPs insist their strategy to stop Johnson will prevail, however. “I remain very, very confident we can stop no-deal because in the end parliament is sovereign,” said Rory Stewart, a former Tory lawmaker now forced to sit as an independent after rebelling against the government last week.

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