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Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to defy a new law designed to stop him forcing the U.K. out of the European Union with no deal next month, and is braced for a fight to settle Brexit in the British courts.
According to a senior official in the U.K. government, Johnson has resolved on a hard-line plan as he prepares for his first face-to-face negotiations with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Monday.
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The premier is vowing to do everything he can to secure a divorce deal with the EU and ratify it in Parliament before the deadline for leaving expires on Oct. 31. But he will tell Juncker that there is just one month left to finalize that agreement and he won’t ask for a delay if the negotiations are fruitless. Johnson will say he’ll reject any extension to the deadline if one is offered by the EU’s other 27 leaders at a summit next month.
Instead, Johnson will ignore a new British law requiring him to ask the EU for Brexit to be postponed and prepare to fight his opponents -- including opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn -- in court.
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“Don’t be fooled by Corbyn and the ringleaders -- on the one hand they say I don’t want a deal, on the other they want to force me to extend,” Johnson said in a statement. “Both are wrong. I am straining to get a deal, but I will also end the uncertainty and take us out on the 31 October.”
In an interview with the Mail on Sunday, Johnson said the U.K. will break out of its “manacles” like the comic-book character the Incredible Hulk.
The prime minister’s hardened stance dramatically raises the stakes in the U.K.’s political and constitutional crisis over its tortured exit from the EU. After voting to leave the trading bloc in 2016, the country is no closer to completing the divorce in a way that avoids the chaos of a sudden rupture without an agreement to soften the blow.
The tactics used in that referendum are still causing controversy. Sunday saw newspapers publish the first extracts of the memoirs of David Cameron, prime minister at the time of the referendum, in which he criticizes what he called the “liars” of the Leave campaign and said Johnson, one of the leaders of that camp, didn’t believe in Brexit.
Three-and-a-half years on, members of Parliament across the political spectrum have watched Johnson’s approach with growing alarm. He says he is determined to take the U.K. out of the EU with no deal if that is the only way to deliver Brexit on time. Earlier this month, MPs took matters into their own hands, inflicting a series of defeats on Johnson in an attempt to force him to moderate his strategy.
Late Saturday, former universities minister Sam Gyimah joined the Liberal Democrats, accusing the prime minister of “playing fast and loose” with the constitution. He’s the sixth lawmaker to move to the Lib Dems in recent weeks.
Under a new law passed by Parliament this month, against Johnson’s wishes, the prime minister must write to the EU to seek an extension if an agreement has not been agreed on by Oct. 19 and Parliament hasn’t given consent to leaving without a deal.
Johnson will refuse to write this letter, the senior government official said. If no agreement is reached with EU leaders at a summit in Brussels on Oct. 17-18, the government will pursue a no-deal Brexit, the official said.
He will prepare to fight the legal challenge his opponents are likely to mount to this policy in court, immediately after that Oct. 19 deadline for seeking a delay passes, the official said. Opponents of a no-deal split are also likely to bring forward draft laws in Parliament aimed at canceling Brexit altogether, revoking the so-called Article 50 notification that triggered the U.K.’s legal divorce proceedings, the official said.
Liberal Democrats leader Jo Swinson said on Sunday the party would cancel Brexit if the party wins the next election, telling the BBC’s “The Andrew Marr Show” that “if people put into government, as a majority government, the stop Brexit party, then stopping Brexit is exactly what people will get.”
At vote at the party’s conference on Sunday, Lib Dem members overwhelmingly backed the policy.
Johnson says he wants an agreement. Talks are still stalled on the contentious issue of the Irish border backstop, a policy intended to ensure there are no checks on goods crossing the U.K.’s land border with Ireland.
Hard-line Brexiteers have signaled they would be willing to vote for a Brexit deal if Johnson can win meaningful concessions on the Northern Ireland backstop, according to the Sunday Times.
On Sunday, two cabinet ministers reiterated Johnson’s desire for a deal, with Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay telling Sky News’s “Ridge on Sunday” there have been “detailed technical talks” and there is a a “landing zone” for an accord. Meanwhile Home Secretary Priti Patel said Johnson is fully committed to getting a deal and leaving on Oct. 31.
In a later radio interview, Barclay suggested that the U.K.’s transition period after leaving could be extended beyond 2020 to sort out the issues relating to the backstop.
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The prime minister will fly to Luxembourg on Monday for his first significant meeting with Juncker, accompanied by officials including his senior aide David Frost and Barclay. They will discuss how to reach an agreement over a working lunch of snails, salmon and cheese.
(Adds comment from Swinson interview in 14th paragraph.)
--With assistance from David Goodman.
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