A defiant Boris Johnson faces parliament today after a UK Supreme Court ruling that he had unlawfully shut it down, with opponents seeking new ways to block him from taking Britain out of the European Union on October 31 without a deal.
After three years of Brexit crisis and Johnson’s tumultuous two-month premiership, it remains unclear when, if or on what terms the United Kingdom will leave the bloc it joined in 1973.
Having lost his majority and a series of votes about Brexit in the House of Commons, Johnson had suspended the legislature for five weeks. But the country’s top court said on Tuesday he had done so without justification and that the closure was void.
Cutting short a visit to New York, Johnson arrived back in London this morning and was due to address a reconvened Commons after flatly rejecting calls to resign and insisting that Brexit would take place on Oct. 31 come what may.
Before the suspension, an alliance of opposition lawmakers backed by rebel members of Johnson’s Conservative Party forced through a law requiring him to ask the EU to push back the deadline if no exit deal was agreed by October 19.
“We simply cannot afford to wait until the 19th of October to see whether the prime minister will refuse to obey the law again,” said Jo Swinson, leader of the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats, adding that opponents did not trust Johnson to obey the legislation.
The leader of Britain’s main opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, said now was not the time for parliament to try to bring Johnson down because the priority was to rule out an EU exit without an agreement.
Parliament remains deadlocked over Brexit, with Johnson intent on leading Britain out of the EU with or without an exit agreement while most lawmakers are determined to block a no-deal scenario, which they fear will cause huge economic disruption.
Johnson has repeatedly said he can strike an exit deal with the EU’s 27 other members at an EU summit on October 17-18.
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However, EU negotiators say he has made no new proposals capable of breaking the deadlock over the issue of how to manage the border between Ireland, an EU member, and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, after Brexit.
While opponents demanded he resign after the court judgment, Johnson was in combative mood. He complained that opponents of Brexit were trying to thwart the will of the people and that an election should be called immediately.
Speaking at the United Nations, Johnson even quipped that some in parliament were seeking to turn Brexit into torment – comparing himself to Greek mythological figure Prometheus whose liver was repeatedly eaten by an eagle.
Parliament has twice refused his demand for an election as opposition parties want first to ensure that a no-deal Brexit on October 31 is ruled out completely.
Some lawmakers shouted and jeered at Johnson’s top legal adviser, UK Attorney General Geoffrey Cox. Under questioning, Cox said the government would comply with a law forcing the prime minister to request a Brexit delay if no deal was struck.
But Cox provoked ire when he said the current parliament was a disgrace, casting Johnson’s opponents as cowards for avoiding an election and trying to block Brexit. He argued that the lawmakers were preventing the government from governing while blocking any route out of the impasse.
“This parliament is a dead parliament. It should no longer sit,” Cox said. “This parliament should have the courage to face the electorate. But it won’t.”
Labour leader Corbyn told the BBC that Johnson should apologise to Queen Elizabeth – who formally suspended parliament at his request – and to the British people for acting unlawfully.
Corbyn said that once a no-deal Brexit had been averted, it would be appropriate to move a motion of no-confidence to force out the government and then hold a national election.
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