Boris Johnson Says Brexit Deadline Must Not Be Seen as ‘Phony’

Alex Morales and Stuart Biggs

(Bloomberg) -- U.K. leadership front-runner Boris Johnson said it would be “insane now” to say the government might not deliver Brexit by Oct. 31, in a hint that he could be prepared to accept a delay at a later date.

The former foreign secretary also said he does not think it will be necessary to suspend Parliament in order to drive through a no-deal Brexit against the wishes of British politicians.

But he again refused to rule out such a radical step, even though former prime minister John Major and Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond have said they’d be prepared to take legal action to prevent that course of action.

“I want the elected representatives of the people to take their responsibilities and work together to get this thing over the line,” Johnson said in a televised BBC interview late Friday. “It would be absolutely insane now to say that yet again we have a, you know, a phony deadline.”

Johnson is the overwhelming favorite in the contest to succeed Prime Minister Theresa May as 180,000 Conservative Party members cast their votes to choose a new leader this month. After Brexit was delayed from March 29 to April 12 and then to Oct. 31, Johnson has said he’s prepared to leave the bloc “do or die” by that deadline -- a position that is popular with euro-skeptic grassroots Tories.

Even so, at least twice in public events during the campaign he’s indicated he could accept a delay at some point in the future. He argues that it is vital to appear resolute about leaving on time in negotiations with the EU.

By contrast, Johnson’s rival for the top job -- Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt -- has said he would allow another delay to Brexit, if a deal were within reach.

In a separate interview with the BBC on Friday, Hunt went further than before, refusing to guarantee the U.K. will leave the EU before Christmas. Parliament may act to prevent a no-deal Brexit, he said, complicating any commitments around the fall deadline. “If we get a deal, it will be on or around 31st October but I can’t control what Parliament does and that’s why I’m being honest with people,” he said.

Hunt offered himself to Tory members as a realist. “If they support me, they are choosing someone who is not going to pretend this is easy, but someone who actually has a chance of getting us out of the European Union quickly which means a deal that can get through Parliament," he said. "And that’s what I can do.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Alex Morales in London at amorales2@bloomberg.net;Stuart Biggs in London at sbiggs3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tim Ross at tross54@bloomberg.net, Emma Ross-Thomas

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.