August 28, 2019 / 11:44 AM / 3 months ago

Breakingviews - Johnson’s Brexit manoeuvre brings crisis to a head

Britain's new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, delivers a speech outside Downing Street, in London, Britain July 24, 2019.

LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - Boris Johnson is bringing the Brexit crisis to a head. The British prime minister on Wednesday announced plans to suspend parliament for more than four weeks until Oct. 14, making life harder for lawmakers who want to thwart his plans to leave the European Union by the end of that month. That will force those who want to prevent a chaotic “no-deal” Brexit to move quickly – and makes a contentious election more likely.

In a letter to parliamentarians, Johnson insisted the purpose of the suspension was to allow his government to propose new legislation. But John Bercow, speaker of the lower house, declared it a “constitutional outrage”, as did Philip Hammond, Britain’s former finance minister.

If Johnson gets his way, parliament will be stuck on the sidelines until shortly before an EU leaders’ summit scheduled for Oct. 17. Any renegotiated deal to leave the EU could then be presented to British lawmakers as the only alternative to a chaotic “no-deal” Brexit less than two weeks later. By then it will probably be too late to find another way to prevent Britain from crashing out.

Opponents of Johnson’s Brexit strategy will have to move quickly. They will have little more than a week to stop him after parliament reconvenes on Sept. 3. They have two broad options: Force the prime minister to seek an extension to Brexit, or pass a motion of no confidence in his government.

Johnson may be gambling that rebels in his Conservative Party will not bring him down as long as there is a chance of a revised Brexit deal. Alternatively, he may hope a showdown with parliament will trigger an election, the one that the former mayor of London insists he does not want.

More than three years after Britain voted by a narrow majority to quit the EU, there is still no clarity about how the country will depart, or whether it will leave at all. Johnson’s Brexit manoeuvre is the latest attempt to narrow the range of options. However, suspending parliament may be a step too far – even for people who voted to “take back control”.

Breakingviews

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