herald

Saturday 14 December 2019

Boris's latest day of Brexit chaos ends in retreat after 'good meeting' with Leo

Boris Johnson meets Leo Varadkar. Photo: Stefan Rousseau
Boris Johnson meets Leo Varadkar. Photo: Stefan Rousseau

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will plough on toward a Halloween Brexit despite having illegally suspended the UK parliament.

Mr Johnson was flying to London overnight ahead of a House of Commons session where Opposition MPs will demand his resignation.

But he remains defiant and accused people of wanting to "frustrate Brexit" and "stop this country coming out of the EU".

A meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in New York last night failed to find a breakthrough, although the Irish side indicated it was a positive engagement.

Crunch

Mr Varadkar said he would "absolutely not" be joining calls for Mr Johnson to resign.

A "very wide gap" still exists between the EU and UK on Brexit but the two leaders did discuss the operation of the Irish backstop "in a little more detail" than at their previous encounter in Dublin last week.

The Herald understands that they agreed to meet again for further discussion, possibly before EU leaders gather for a crunch summit on October 17.

The two delegations held talks for around 40 minutes in what the Taoiseach described as "a good meeting".

But he warned: "There is still a very wide gap between Britain and the EU and Ireland".

Mr Varadkar said they talked in detail about the withdrawal agreement and the backstop to avoid a hard border in Ireland - which Mr Johnson wants to scrap.

He said one issue that was not the subject of detailed discussion was the UK Supreme Court's ruling that Mr Johnson had acted unlawfully in suspending Parliament.

"I'd be very much of the view that a decision made by the UK Supreme Court is an internal matter for the UK government and not something that we're going to get involved in," Mr Varadkar said.

Asked if it complicated Brexit negotiations, he replied: "The negotiations have always been complicated by the fact that the UK parliament is very divided."

Amid the chaos, the DUP admitted that the UK may now not be in a position to leave the EU in 36 days time.

The party's deputy leader, Nigel Dodds, said the "shenanigans" in the Commons had weakened the prime minister's hand in negotiations.

"This is just another step on the way and there will be many more twists and turns in the saga," he said. "I think it would be very unwise for anyone to predict, never mind the end of October, what's going to happen next week. I think we're in uncharted territory."

Mr Johnson held a telephone call with his full Cabinet lasting for about 30 minutes to update them on the supreme court's ruling, saying he disagreed with the decision but that he respected the independence of the judiciary.

He also phoned Queen Elizabeth amid calls for him for to publicly apologise to the monarch for the debacle.

Court president Lady Hale said the 11 judges were unanimously "bound to conclude" that the decision "to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament was unlawful because it had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification".

Session

On foot of the ruling, Commons Speaker John Bercow announced that the House would resume its business this morning. There will be no session of Prime Minister's Questions, but Mr Bercow said there would be scope for applications for emergency debates and calls for ministers to be summoned to the House.

"The citizens of the UK are entitled to expect that Parliament does discharge its core functions, that it is in a position to scrutinise the executive, to hold ministers to account and to legislate if it chooses," he said.

It is expected that Mr Johnson will make an appearance in parliament at some stage over the course of the day.

He has spent the past two days attending a United Nations summit in New York where he met with a string of European leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Mr Johnson also held talks with US President Donald Trump who rushed to his defence.

After the embattled prime minister was questioned about resigning, Mr Trump said: "I'll tell you, I know him well, he's not going anywhere."

Mr Trump then rebuked the journalist who asked the question, saying: "That was a very nasty question from a great American reporter."

The president added that it would be "terrible" if the UK government's Brexit plan was blocked.

Separately Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Britain's focus on Brexit is undermining the country's needed leadership in global affairs.

"We've seen the instability and the challenges that the UK continues to go through as it is wrapped up with this issue," Mr Trudeau said.

"But we certainly deplore that they are so consumed by this issue that it is interfering with their ability to lead on so many other things where the UK's leadership in the world is so necessary."

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