Boris Johnson Says There’s ‘Bags of Time’ Left to Renegotiate Brexit With EU

Jessica Shankleman and Kitty Donaldson

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U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged the European Union to show "common sense" and re-write the Brexit divorce deal he says is unacceptable, as he stepped up preparations to leave the bloc without one.

With just 84 days to go until the U.K.’s scheduled departure from the EU on Oct. 31, Johnson said there’s plenty of time for his European counterparts to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement struck by his predecessor Theresa May, which was rejected three times in Parliament.

"I very much hope that our friends and partners will show common sense and that they will compromise,” he said in an interview with the BBC Thursday.

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Johnson has repeatedly said he’ll take the U.K. out of the EU with or without a deal, and has allocated an additional 2.1 billion pounds ($2.5 billion) for government departments to step up their preparations for crashing out of the bloc. While he’s spoken to EU leaders on the phone his office has suggested he won’t meet them to discuss Brexit unless they first agree to rip up the exit contract that they agreed with May.

‘Bags of Time’

The new British premier’s main demand is to remove the so-called backstop plan from the divorce agreement. This is a legal guarantee intended to ensure there’s no need for checks on goods crossing the land border with Ireland.

Members of Britain’s Parliament voted to reject May’s Brexit deal three times, with many saying the backstop was the major problem because it threatens to tie the U.K. indefinitely to EU trade rules. For pro-Brexit politicians such as Johnson, that would defeat the point of leaving the EU.

“There’s every possibility for the EU to show flexibility,” Johnson said Thursday. “There’s bags of time for them to do it and I’m confident they will.”

Officials in Brussels disagree and are not willing to re-open the withdrawal agreement. As the stand-off continues, the clock ticks down toward the Halloween deadline, and with it, the chances of a messy no-deal Brexit grow. The pound has fallen in recent weeks amid rising concerns that the negotiations over Britain’s exit from the EU will fail, damaging the U.K. economy.

Election Alert

In London, politicians are readying for a possible general election in the fall. Johnson’s ruling Conservative Party is clinging on to power by its finger nails, with a working majority in the House of Commons of just one. He is facing a battle in September with politicians who oppose his last resort option of leaving the EU without a deal.

One option to break the deadlock would be for either Johnson, or his opponents to trigger an election.

In his BBC interview, Johnson brushed aside questions about whether he could hold a general election before Oct. 31 in order to deliver on his Brexit pledge. Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party, has indicated he’ll call for a vote of no confidence in the Government when Parliament returns from summer recess in a bid to stop Johnson forcing the U.K. out of the EU with no deal.

Asked if he would resign if he lost such a confidence vote, Johnson said he was focused on getting a deal with the EU and preparing the country to cope with a no-deal split, if that becomes necessary. He said British people did not want to have another election, after one was held in 2015 and 2017, with a national referendum in 2016.

For his part, Corbyn tried a new tactic to limit Johnson’s options. He wrote to the U.K.’s most senior civil servant Mark Sedwill asking him to rule that the prime minister could not delay any election until after the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline in order to force the U.K. out of the bloc without a deal.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jessica Shankleman in London at jshankleman@bloomberg.net;Kitty Donaldson in London at kdonaldson1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tim Ross at tross54@bloomberg.net

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