Johnson Tries Again to Force U.K. Election: Brexit Update

Alex Morales and Tim Ross
Johnson Tries Again to Force U.K. Election: Brexit Update

(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Boris Johnson, facing the biggest political crisis of his career, is addressing Parliament for the first time since Britain’s Supreme Court ruled his decision to suspend the legislature was illegal.

He has offered all opposition political parties the chance to trigger a formal vote of no-confidence in his government, a move that would put Britain on course for a potential general election. Speaking to the Commons, Johnson criticized the court judgment, and said voters wanted politicians to deliver Brexit by the end of October -- without a deal if necessary.

Key Developments:

Johnson offers to make time for opposition parties to hold a vote of no-confidence in his government on ThursdayJohnson says public wants Brexit with a deal if possible and without one if necessaryJohnson: Supreme Court was wrong to pronounce on suspension of ParliamentCabinet minister Michael Gove sees progress in Brexit talks, but European Union says British proposals unsatisfactoryThe Pound fell 1%The Day After Brexit: What a Crash Out of the EU Might Look Like

Johnson Faces Backlash Over ‘Humbug’ Remark (9:30 p.m.)

In the House of Commons, opposition members of Parliament have been outraged by Boris Johnson’s description of the law -- dubbed the Benn-Burt bill after the MPs who proposed it -- to prevent a no-deal Brexit as a “surrender bill.” Pressed to change his language, he called it a “capitulation” bill, and said it has weakened his negotiating position with the European Union.

Labour MP Paula Sherriff then demanded he stop using “pejorative” and “dangerous” language that, she said, incited violence and death threats against lawmakers. She pointed to the plaque behind her for Jo Cox, the pro-Remain Labour MP murdered during the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Johnson replied: “I have never heard so much humbug in my life,” adding the best way to cool tensions in the country is to get Brexit done. That has triggered widespread anger on Twitter from politicians and his widower, Brendan Cox.

No Sign of Opposition Seeking Confidence Vote (9 p.m.)

There’s no sign yet of any of the opposition parties taking Boris Johnson up on his offer for them to propose a vote of no confidence in his government. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said he wants an election, but will not countenance one until a no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31 has been ruled out.

The Scottish National Party’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, suggested to the House of Commons that he wanted to “unite” the opposition “to trigger a vote of no confidence to bring this chaotic government down,” but later issued a statement laying out a position broadly in line with Corbyn.

Liberal Democrat Party Leader Jo Swinson made no mention of the offer in an intervention demanding Johnson apologize to the House of Commons over the Supreme Court ruling. The party’s Brexit spokesman, Tom Brake, said in a text message the Liberal Democrats are “focused on securing the extension before any other option such as a confidence motion.”

Johnson: Still ‘Difficult Issues’ in Border Talks (8:15 p.m.)

Boris Johnson said he discussed so-called alternative arrangements for the post-Brexit border with Ireland with his Irish counterpart, Leo Varadkar, on Monday -- but warned that there’s still work to do.

“It would be over-optimistic to say that that alone can solve the problem,” Johnson told the House of Commons. “There remain difficult issues about customs and we must make progress on that issue.”

“Alternative arrangements” is the term for methods including trusted trader programs and checks away from the border designed to replace the contentious backstop provision in the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

Johnson Won’t Quit If He Loses Confidence Vote (7:50 p.m.)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson won’t stand down if his government loses a no-confidence vote, his spokesman James Slack told reporters. “I have seen absolutely nothing to suggest that the prime minister would resign,” he said.

Under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, if the government loses such a vote, the premier and other parties have 14 days to win another confidence vote. If no one does so, a general election is triggered. Another spokesman declined to say how Johnson’s Conservatives would vote, stressing that while they had confidence in the premier, the vote could be tactical.

The spokesman also wouldn’t rule out the government suspending Parliament again. He also said the Conservative Party conference will go ahead next week, and that Johnson will speak at it, even if opposition parties refuse to heed convention and approve a parliamentary recess.

PM Challenges Opposition to Call Confidence Vote (6:44 p.m.)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson challenged the opposition parties to call a vote of confidence in his government as he sought again to force a general election.

Johnson threw down the gauntlet to opposition Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn, telling him he has until the Commons closes for business on Wednesday to propose a motion of no confidence in the government. He also told minor opposition parties that they too could do so, and the government would ensure there was time to debate it.

After opposition parties twice rejected an attempt by Johnson to force an early general election, a confidence vote would offer Johnson another path to national poll.

If he loses such a vote, the House of Commons will have 14 days in which to form an alternative government, and if it fails to do so, an election will follow.

“This parliament must either stand aside and let this government get Brexit done or bring a vote of confidence and finally face a day of reckoning with the voters,” Johnson told the Commons on Wednesday.

Johnson Attacks Supreme Court as ‘Wrong’ (6:37 p.m.)

Johnson said the Supreme Court was asked to intervene in this process of suspending Parliament for the first time ever. The premier insisted he meant no disrespect to judiciary, before slamming the judges’ ruling. “I think the court was wrong to pronounce on what is essentially a political question at a time of great national controversy,” Johnson said.

Johnson Says EU Talks are Advancing (6:35 p.m.)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the house of Commons that he’s made progress in the talks.

Sixty-four days ago, he said, “I was told that Brussels would never reopen the Withdrawal Agreement. We are now discussing the Withdrawal Agreement.” He added that the he’s now discussing with EU counterparts alternatives to the Irish backstop, and arrangements that aren’t permanent, contrary to warnings he’d been given when he started the job.

EU Says U.K. Ideas Unacceptable (6 p.m.)

The British government’s latest ideas for the post-Brexit Irish border aren’t acceptable, the European Commission said on Wednesday at a confidential briefing of national diplomats.

Last week’s three discussion documents, and an additional one looking at how to deal with goods between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain, are unsatisfactory and insufficient to replace the so-called backstop, according to officials at the meeting.

In truth, very little has happened in the negotiations over the past couple of weeks -- the Commission’s criticism of the U.K. ideas hasn’t changed in that time. It wants the British government to put forward more concrete proposals sooner rather than later.

Johnson to Address Tory MPs on Thursday (5:25 p.m.)

Boris Johnson will address the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative members of Parliament at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, a U.K. official said.

Gove Swerves Questions About No-Deal Planning (4.20 p.m.)

Michael Gove, the minister in charge of no-deal Brexit planning, has swerved question after question in the House of Commons about the details.

Whether it was on shortages of medical supplies or the fears that queues of trucks will block the roads, he replied by assuring Parliament that the matter was in hand, and stopped there.

He was also asked repeatedly at what point the government stopped referring to the no-deal forecasts revealed earlier this month as “base case” and started calling them “worst case,” something he refused to say.

Gove Sees ‘Significant Progress’ in Brexit Talks (3:25 p.m.)

Michael Gove, the minister in charge of no-deal Brexit planning, told the House of Commons on Wednesday that there has been “significant movement over recent weeks” in the negotiations with the European Union.

“Until recently the European Union has maintained that the Withdrawal Agreement was sacrosanct: now they have acknowledged it can be changed,” Gove said. “Up until this point the European Union have also said that the Backstop was inviolable. But again, European leaders have said that they are not emotionally attached to the backstop.”

His optimism appeared at odds with comments from Guy Verhofstadt (see 3 p.m.) and Simon Coveney (see 2 p.m.).

Verhofstadt Slams U.K.’s Backstop Ideas (3 p.m.)

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, says U.K. discussion papers about replacing the Irish border backstop don’t go far enough and are only a “partial response.”

The documents, which were sent to EU negotiators, are “not a fully fledged legally operable alternative,” the former Belgian prime minister told the European Parliament. “It’s not acceptable to say the backstop can fall and we put this partial proposal in place of this full backstop.”

Technical negotiations are continuing in Brussels this week but EU officials say little progress has been made.

‘Johnson Did Nothing Improper’ Over Funding (2:10 p.m.)

Matt Warman, on his first appearance as a culture minister in the House of Commons, found himself defending publicly-funded grants given to a business run by a friend of Boris Johnson’s.

Members of Parliament also asked about reports in the Sunday Times newspaper that Johnson had arranged for U.S. businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri, a technology entrepreneur, to join him on trade missions. Warman said a review of the funding process is underway.

“There’s no evidence that the prime minister did anything improper,” Warman said. “We are having a review and we will make that public.”

The SNP’s Brendan O’Hara said the allegations add to “a stench of sleaze and scandal currently engulfing the prime minister.”

U.K. Border Proposals ‘Fanciful,’ Irish Say (2 p.m.)

Speaking in New York, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said the U.K.’s proposals to break the Brexit deadlock have been “fanciful,” according to a tweet from Elaine Loughlin, a reporter with the Irish Examiner.

Coveney appeared to be striking a tougher tone than that of Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who last night appeared to offer some glimmer of hopes that progress was being made after his meeting with Boris Johnson.

Election Motion Coming ‘Shortly,’ Cox Says (1:10 p.m.)

Asked by Scottish National Party MP Patricia Gibson why the prime minister won’t resign, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox replied that she’ll soon have a chance to get her wish.

He then may have inadvertently let slip part of Boris Johnson’s plans, when he said members of Parliament will soon get the chance to vote on an election motion.

“Can I encourage her to vote for the election motion that will be coming before the house shortly,” he said. “That way she can ensure that what she hopes, what she thinks, no doubt will take place.”

Cox: Politicians Could Vet Judges in Future (1 p.m.)

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox risked escalating the war of words between the government and the judiciary over Brexit. He said the Supreme Court had made new law in its ruling on Tuesday -- and then suggested Parliament may decide it needs to vet the appointment of judges in future.

“I do think that we are going to have to look again at our constitutional arrangements,” Cox said. “One matter may very well be whether there will need to be parliamentary scrutiny of judicial appointments in some manner.”

He said he is “not enthusiastic” about the prospect of such a development taking place over the months and years ahead. The backlash from lawyers and judges is likely to be far stronger.

Cox Suggests Wriggle Room on Brexit Law (12:50 p.m.)

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox suggested there may be wriggle room around the law requiring Boris Johnson to delay Brexit if he can’t get Parliament to either approve a deal or a no-deal departure from the European Union.

“There is a question as to precisely what obligations the law might require of the government,” Cox said. “But once those obligations are ascertained with clarity, and I’m not saying that they aren’t clear, I’m just saying that it’s a legitimate consideration the government must go through, the government will obey them.”

Cox was responding to a question about whether the government was seeking to break the law, which was passed by Parliament earlier this month. He refused to say if he’s been asked to provide the government with legal advice on the matter, saying attorneys general “cannot disclose either the fact or content of any advice.”

Tories Turn their Fire on Johnson’s Aide (12.30 p.m.)

After Johnson’s Supreme Court defeat, MPs in his own party are turning their fire on Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s senior aide. Two former cabinet ministers – and an adviser to a third -- told Bloomberg Cummings should go for his role in the prorogation of Parliament that the court ruled unlawful.

One of them noted that after Theresa May’s gambit of calling a snap election in 2017 deprived her of the Tory majority, her top two aides lost their jobs. Neither former minister thought Johnson himself should quit.

Cox Suggests Simple Law to Call Election (12:20 p.m.)

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox offered the opposition Labour Party the opportunity to force an election through a short bill requiring just a simple majority in Parliament.

“All we need -- I offer this to the front bench of the Labour Party -- all we need is a one-line bill that we could put through with the speaker’s help, fixing the date of a general election by a simple majority, and we could have the election,” Cox told the House of Commons.

It’s the first time a Government minister has openly voiced the idea, which has been circulating around Westminster for the past month.

The plan would circumvent the only other paths to a general election under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act: Either through a vote requiring a 2/3 majority in Parliament, or following a government losing a confidence vote and no one else being able to form a new administration within two weeks.

Cox Says Current Parliament is Dead (12:10 p.m.)

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox launched a scathing attack on opposition MPs for failing to pass Theresa May’s Brexit deal and then refusing to have a general election.

“This Parliament is a dead parliament. It should no longer sit. It has no moral right to sit on these green benches,” he told the House of Commons. “This Parliament should have the courage to face the electorate, but it won’t.”

While Cox concentrated his fire on the Labour Party, there were current cabinet members who also refused to back May’s deal earlier this year.

Cox: Any further Suspension Will Comply With Law (12 p.m.)

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox said if the government does choose to suspend Parliament again, it will comply with the law. “There will be no prorogation that doesn’t comply with the terms of the judgment of the Supreme Court,” he told the House of Commons.

He was responding to a question from former minister Oliver Letwin seeking a guarantee that the government won’t suspend Parliament between now and the current Oct. 31 Brexit deadline “save potentially a few days before a Queen’s Speech.”

It’s a strong hint that the government plans to suspend Parliament again in order to set out a new legislative agenda before the end of next month – albeit this time for only a few days rather than the 5-week period declared unlawful by the Supreme Court.

Cox Defends Independence of Courts (11:50 a.m.)

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox added his voice to Justice Secretary Robert Buckland (see 9:55 a.m.) as he defended the independence of the judges in the Supreme Court.

“I don’t think it was a constitutional coup,” he said in response to a question about the reported comments of Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg, who was sitting alongside him as he answered questions from MPs. He said the comments were “rhetorical and poetical license.”

“Judges are both impartial and independent and they are entitled to reach the view that they have reached,” he told the House of Commons.

And in a robust defense of the legal system and his advice to ministers, he reminded lawmakers that good lawyers often find themselves on the losing side. He had won in a number of courts before the cases reached the Supreme Court, he said. “The fact of the matter is this advice was sound advice at the time.”

Cox Says Government Accepts Court Decision (11:40 a.m.)

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox said the government accepts the “definitive and final” ruling of the Supreme Court. “At all times the government acted in good faith,” he told the House of Commons, to jeering from the opposition benches.

Cox said he is considering whether to publish the advice given to the government on suspending Parliament. “I will consider over the coming days whether the public interest might require a greater disclosure of the advice given to the government on this subject,” he said.

A leaked version of the advice, reported by Sky News on Tuesday, showed Cox saying that the move was lawful.

Johnson to Set Out Next Steps (11:10 a.m.)

Boris Johnson will set out his next steps -- including whether he still wants to hold a Queen’s Speech on Oct. 14 -- when he addresses lawmakers in the House of Commons on Wednesday afternoon, his spokeswoman Alison Donnelly told reporters in London.

Johnson’s team are still considering the implications of the Supreme Court judgment and the prime minister “absolutely” still has confidence in Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, Donnelly said.

Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow has granted two urgent questions, according to Labour business managers, so Johnson’s statement is now not likely to happen until about 5 p.m.

Johnson to Address MPs as Storm Rages (10:45 a.m.)

Boris Johnson will make a statement to Parliament later on Wednesday after flying in from New York overnight.

When Parliament resumes at 11:30 a.m. there will first be a statement on the collapse of Thomas Cook by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, followed by a statement from No-Deal Brexit Minister Michael Gove, according to business managers from the opposition Labour Party.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will then update the House on Iran before Johnson appears before MPs. After Johnson, Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg will make a statement on future business, the Labour Whips said on Twitter.

Johnson Lands, Readies For Hostile Reception (10:20 a.m.)

Boris Johnson has arrived back at Heathrow airport, where a motorcade was waiting to whisk him into central London.

Less than eight hours earlier, he was addressing a polite late-evening audience at the United Nations on the subject of the risks and opportunities of artificial intelligence. The reception in Parliament is likely to be significantly more hostile.

Rebuke for Ministers Straying Off Message (9:55 a.m.)

Disagreements among Boris Johnson’s top team were laid bare when Justice Secretary Robert Buckland reminded his colleagues of the need to support the judiciary, after a series of attacks on Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling.

“We must all remember that our world-class judiciary always acts free from political motivation or influence and that the rule of law is the basis of our democracy, for all seasons,” Buckland said Wednesday on Twitter. “Personal attacks on judges from any quarter are completely unacceptable.”

Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg told a cabinet conference call on Tuesday the ruling amounted to a constitutional coup, according to two people familiar with the conversation. On Wednesday, Michael Gove told BBC radio that respectable lawyers say the court was wrong (see Earlier).

Glimmers of Hope on Brexit Deal? (9:30 a.m.)

It may not be all doom and gloom for Boris Johnson. A few hours after the U.K. Supreme Court ruled that he’d broken the law by suspending Parliament, the British prime minister held his second meeting within a month with his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar.

On the surface, little seems to have changed, with Varadkar saying the gap between the two sides remains wide.

But he also said the encounter was “good” and that the pair would meet again “very soon,” suggesting the pace of engagement is quickening. The thorny question of how Northern Ireland might be given a say in any Brexit deal was discussed, pointing to some potential movement.

Ultimately, the discussions may lead nowhere -- and Tuesday’s court decision gives Ireland little reason to offer concessions anytime soon. But Varadkar’s tone suggested all is not lost just yet.

Corbyn to Pursue Election Once No-Deal Risk Over (8:30 a.m.)

Opposition Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn said he would be prepared to support Boris Johnson’s demand for an early general election, but only after the government has applied for a Brexit extension, per legislation passed by Parliament, in the event he can’t reach a deal with Brussels. Under the law, an election would follow 25 working days later.

“I’m very happy to have a general election when we’ve taken no-deal off the table,” Corbyn told BBC Radio 4. If the government applies for an extension and is granted one by the EU, that would “be a step forward,” he said.

Parliament resumes in London on Wednesday, but by convention, the legislature would be in recess while the Conservatives hold their annual conference in Manchester next week. Corbyn, who delivered the keynote speech to his own party’s conference on Tuesday, said he would refuse to allow another suspension of Parliament for the Tories to hold theirs.

Corbyn also called on Johnson to apologize to Queen Elizabeth II for giving her unlawful advice to suspend Parliament, “but more importantly apologize to the British people for what he’s done in trying to shut down our democracy at a very crucial time, he said.

Gove: Respectable Lawyers Say Court Is Wrong (Earlier)

Michael Gove, the U.K. minister in charge of no-deal Brexit planning, said there is respectable legal opinion that disagrees with the ruling of the Supreme Court on the suspension of Parliament.

“It’s perfectly possible to disagree with with some of the reasoning but to respect the rule of law,” Gove told BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday. His comments come after fellow Cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg attacked the ruling on a conference call with Boris Johnson and other ministers, calling it a constitutional coup, two people familiar with the matter said.

Significantly, Gove also didn’t rule out the possibility of another suspension to allow a new session of Parliament to begin, saying the government wants to pursue its domestic agenda. He said the government would lay out its proposals to Parliament on Wednesday.

SNP Indicates Support for Corbyn as Interim PM (Earlier)

Ian Blackford, Westminster leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party -- which is pushing the most strongly for an immediate general election -- suggested in a BBC radio interview he could support Jeremy Corbyn as a temporary, interim prime minister to oversee an election.

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat Deputy leader Ed Davey proposed veteran MPs Harriet Harman for Labour, or Ken Clarke for the Tories, as a temporary solution for a cross-party government of national unity. For his part, Clarke told BBC radio that rather than discussing candidates, Parliament should be focusing on what any interim leader is trying to achieve.

Earlier:

Johnson Flies Into His Gravest Crisis After Brexit Court DefeatBoris Johnson’s Big Brexit Gamble Has Plainly Failed: EditorialThe Day After Brexit: What a Crash Out of the EU Might Look LikeBoris Johnson Caught in the Supreme Court’s Constitutional Web

--With assistance from Thomas Penny, Dara Doyle, Kitty Donaldson, Ian Wishart, Jessica Shankleman and Robert Hutton.

To contact the reporters on this story: Alex Morales in London at amorales2@bloomberg.net;Tim Ross in London at tross54@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Flavia Krause-Jackson at fjackson@bloomberg.net, Stuart Biggs, Thomas Penny

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