Brexit will happen on Oct. 31 despite PM's unsigned delay request, UK says
October 20, 2019 05:20 PM NPT
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street to head for 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. REUTERS/Simon Dawson
LONDON, Oct 20: Britain will leave the European Union on Oct. 31 despite an unsigned letter that Prime Minister Boris Johnson was forced by his opponents to send to the bloc requesting a Brexit delay, the government said on Sunday.
The Brexit maelstrom has spun wildly in the past week between the possibility of an orderly exit on Oct. 31 with a deal that Johnson struck on Thursday and a delay after he was forced to ask for an extension late on Saturday.
Johnson’s defeat in the British parliament over the sequencing of the ratification of his deal exposed the prime minister to a law passed by his opponents demanding he request a delay until Jan. 31.
Johnson insisted he did not want what he cast as a deeply corrosive delay to Brexit beyond the Halloween deadline. One of his most senior ministers said Britain would still leave the bloc on Oct. 31.
“We are going to leave by October 31. We have the means and the ability to do so,” Michael Gove, the minister in charge of no-deal Brexit preparations, told Sky News.
“That letter was sent because parliament required it to be sent ... but parliament can’t change the prime minister’s mind, parliament can’t change the government’s policy or determination.”
In an extraordinary step that indicates the extent of the Brexit fever gripping the United Kingdom, Johnson sent three letters to Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council.
First, a brief cover note from Britain’s EU envoy explaining that the government was simply complying with the law; second, an unsigned photocopy of the text that the law, known as the Benn Act, forced him to write; and a third letter in which Johnson said he did not want an extension.
“I have made clear since becoming Prime Minister and made clear to parliament again today, my view, and the Government’s position, that a further extension would damage the interests of the UK and our EU partners, and the relationship between us,” Johnson said in the third letter, signed “Boris Johnson”.
The EU, which has grappled with more than three years of tortuous Brexit crisis, was clearly bewildered by the contradictory signals from London.
Tusk said he had received the request from Johnson.
“I will now start consulting EU leaders on how to react,” he said on Twitter.
French President Emmanuel Macron told Johnson that Paris needed swift clarification on the situation after Saturday’s vote, an official at the French presidency told Reuters.
“He (Macron) signalled a delay would be in no one’s interest,” the official said.
It was unlikely that the EU’s 27 remaining member states would refuse Britain’s delay request. Diplomats said on Sunday the bloc would play for time rather than rush to decide, waiting to see how things developed in London next week.