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France: EU Will Not Agree on Brexit Delay Beyond October 31

Published September 8th, 2019 - 09:35 GMT
Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French foreign minister (Twitter)
Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French foreign minister (Twitter)
Under the plan, detailed in The Sunday Times, the Prime Minister will try to agree a new deal with Brussels at a summit on October 17 but should he fail he will then refuse to ask for an extension. 

France today said the EU will not agree a Brexit delay beyond October 31 amid claims Boris Johnson will defy the law and 'sabotage' an extension if he is unable to strike a deal with Brussels. 

Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French foreign minister, said the Brexit meltdown in the UK was 'very worrying' as he insisted an extension would not be possible under the current circumstances. 

'We are not going to do (extend) this every three months,' he said. 

His comments represent a potential hammer blow to Remain-backing MPs who have passed a law which will force the PM to ask the EU to postpone Brexit if the two sides have not struck an agreement in the run up to the Halloween deadline.

EU chiefs have previously suggested they would be willing to delay Brexit in order to give the UK time to hold a general election or a second referendum to break the impasse. 

Mr Johnson has said he will not ask for an extension in any circumstances but Mr Le Drian's remarks suggest that even if he did, the request may be denied. 

It came as Mr Johnson and the Tories surged to a 14 point lead over Labour in a new poll as his 'do or die' pledge to leave the EU with or without a deal continued to resonate with Leave voters.

The Conservative Party is polling at 35 per cent in a new YouGov survey with Labour far behind on 21 per cent, the Lib Dems on 19 per cent and the Brexit Party on 12 per cent.  

But while Mr Johnson may be surging in the polls, his Brexit strategy continues to cause chaos in Westminster as it emerged that he is considering a plan to defy the rebel anti-No Deal law which is expected to be given Royal Assent as early as tomorrow. 

Under the plan, detailed in The Sunday Times, the Prime Minister will try to agree a new deal with Brussels at a summit on October 17 but should he fail he will then refuse to ask for an extension. 

Downing Street believes such a move would guarantee an immediate judicial review in the Supreme Court with the fate of Brexit placed in the hands of judges just days before the October 31 deadline. 

The emergence of the bombshell strategy, detailed in The Sunday Times, came as Amber Rudd resigned from the Cabinet and surrendered the Tory whip as she claimed '80 per cent to 90 per cent' of government efforts were now focused on No Deal.

Ms Rudd said she could not continue to serve as work and pensions secretary after the PM sacked 21 Tory Remainer rebels for backing a bid to block No Deal, accusing him of an 'assault on decency and democracy'.

But Sajid Javid, the Chancellor, struck a defiant tone today as he said 'the government will not change its policy' over keeping a No Deal split as an option while Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, said the government will 'test to the limit' the legislation passed by MPs. 

Number 10 announced this morning that Therese Coffey, an environment minister, had replaced Ms Rudd as Work and Pensions Secretary. 

It came as John McDonnell suggested Labour would only support a new coalition government, formed in the event Mr Johnson resigns, if Jeremy Corbyn leads it - something many opposition MPs are opposed to. 

Meanwhile, a number of Tory rebels - including Rory Stewart - who had the whip stripped are reportedly in talks with the Liberal Democrats to strike a non-aggression pact at the next election.

Mr Johnson will tomorrow try for a second time to trigger a snap general election as he urges MPs to back going to the country on October 15. 

But opposition leaders have united and agreed they will not support an early poll taking place until a Brexit delay has been formally agreed with the EU to stop Britain crashing out of the bloc in just 53 days. 

However, Downing Street has worked up a fall back plan should Mr Johnson's bid for an election fail. 

The plan would see him ignore an anti-No Deal law passed by MPs and peers last week. 

He would go to the final EU summit before Brexit and seek an agreement but should one not be forthcoming he would then refuse to ask for the delay the law states he must. 

Such a move would spark a political, constitutional and legal firestorm because the PM would be acting in open defiance of the law. 

Number 10 believes the matter would then be referred to the Supreme Court. Legal experts believe Mr Johnson could ultimately risk a jail sentence if he fails to comply with the law. 

But a Number 10 source said: 'If there isn't a deal by the 18th we will sabotage the extension.'

Meanwhile, a Whitehall source said Mr Johnson's government was prepared to 'take a chainsaw to anything' to make sure the UK leaves the EU on time. 

Any attempt to ignore the anti-No Deal law passed by Parliament would prompt a furious backlash from MPs and peers. 

Last night Tory MPs warned the PM that they would resign the whip if he went through with such a strategy. 

Kevin Hollinrake, a Conservative backbencher, told The Sunday Telegraph: 'You would see a significant number of Conservative MPs resigning the whip, including me.' 

Number 10 believes that while the move would be unpopular in Westminster, it would resonate well with the Leave voters it wants to win over ahead of an early general election. 

It came as Ms Rudd quit the government and surrendered the Tory whip as the UK's political meltdown continued apace. 

Ms Rudd said she 'no longer believes leaving with a deal is the government's main objective'.

'He's so focused on one element, preparing for No Deal, he's not engaging enough with the need to get a deal,' she said. 

'My mother used to say: 'Judge a man by what he does and not by what he says'. I am concerned that he's not doing enough to make true what he says is his priority.'

She also labelled his decision to eject 21 MPs from the Conservative party an 'act of political vandalism' and accused him of 'unwisely' putting parliament against the people.

Describing the decision to remove the whip from MPs as an 'assault on decency and democracy', she said: 'Number 10 wants the 21 not to be there as MPs because they need those seats to be occupied by people who support their No Deal plan.'

Last night a furious Number 10 source responded to Ms Rudd's resignation by saying: 'As the polls show, the voters are quite happy for the PM to get rid of people who don't want us to sort out Brexit. 

'There are plenty of talented younger MPs to replace any deadwood.'  

But Ms Rudd, who intends to stand as an independent conservative candidate at the next election but potentially not in her current Hastings and Rye constituency, went on the attack this morning. 

Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, she said she was shown a 'one-page summary' when she asked for evidence of the government's work in negotiating a new deal with the EU.

'I believe he is trying to get a deal with the EU, I am just saying what I have seen in government is that there is this huge machine preparing for No Deal,' she said. 

'You might expect in the balance between getting a deal and no-deal 50/50 in terms of work but it's not that, it's like 80 per cent to 90 per cent of government time going into preparing for no-deal and the absence of trying to get a deal has driven 21 of my colleagues to rebel, and I need to join them.'

She also insisted that when it came to the crunch, Mr Johnson 'will obey the law'.  

Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, said his former colleague knew what she was signing up for when she joined Mr Johnson's Cabinet. 

Defending the decision to sack the 21 rebel MPs, Mr Raab said this morning that Mr Johnson was 'right to restore some discipline'. 

He told Sky News: 'In fairness, when she took the Cabinet role everyone was asked 'do you accept and will you sign up to and do you support the Prime Minister's plan to leave by October, preferably with a deal but if not come what may?''

'We all accepted that and I think that the Prime Minister was right to restore some discipline and I think he is right to expect it from his top team.' 

Mr Raab also said the government will 'test to the limit' rebel anti-No Deal legislation in comments which suggest ministers could try to skirt the law. 

He said: 'We're always going to behave lawfully as a Government, of course you'd expect that, and anyway it will be challenged in the courts, but what we are going to do with that legislation is test very carefully what it does and doesn't require, and that's not only the lawful thing to do, I think it's the responsible thing to do.'

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Meanwhile, Mr Javid hit back at Ms Rudd's claim that the government was not trying hard enough to get a Brexit deal with the EU. 

He told the BBC: 'Whilst I respect her deeply, I don't agree with her on what I thought her central point in her letter was that she said the government is not taking seriously the issue of getting a deal with the EU.

'From day one, from the point this new administration was formed, the central focus of the government has been that we leave the EU on October 31.

'We want to have a deal.'

Mr Javid said the government 'will obey the law' but that the UK 'will leave on October 31'.

He continued: 'We will not change our policy, we will have to wait and see.

'We will be consistent with obeying the law but also sticking to our policy, and you will have to wait and see what happens because there is a lot of days between now and October the 19th.' 

Numerous senior Tories bemoaned Ms Rudd's decision to quit, including Health Secretary Matt Hancock who said he hoped 'other One Nation Tories will stay and fight for the values we share'. 

Philip Hammond, the former chancellor and one of the 21 rebels to be expelled, replied: 'Sorry Matt, I’m afraid the Conservative Party has been taken over by unelected advisors, entryists and usurpers who are trying to turn it from a broad church into an extreme right-wing faction. Sadly, it is not the party I joined.'

Many in Westminster believe Mr Johnson will ultimately have to resign as PM if he is to avoid breaking his 'do or die' pledge given that MPs have effectively made No Deal illegal.

That raises the prospect of opposition MPs forming a temporary coalition government with the one task of agreeing a Brexit delay. 

Some MPs - including Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson - have expressed serious doubts that Mr Corbyn would ever be able to win over a majority of MPs to back putting him in Number 10. 

But Mr McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, said today it would have to be Mr Corbyn who leads that government.

'It has to be [Mr Corbyn] because he is the leader of the Opposition,' he told the BBC.

'Just as he has united them over these last few weeks, he could do that as caretaker prime minister.

'I think we could unite them under Jeremy Corbyn.' 

Mr Johnson has been accused of planning to set the EU 'on fire' as the only way to keep his grip on power and hit next month's Brexit deadline. 

Last week he said he would rather be 'dead in a ditch' than obey Remainer MPs, making his resignation seem inevitable if no alternative can be found - unless he breaks the law by simply ignoring the will of Parliament. 

Senior civil servants started making preparations on Friday for Mr Johnson to leave Downing Street as early as tomorrow – giving Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn the chance to form a rival administration.

But Downing Street sources insist that Mr Johnson's immediate resignation is not under consideration.

The Prime Minister will tomorrow make a second attempt to try to break the deadlock by asking the Commons to back a general election on October 15. 

But Labour's opposition to a pre-Brexit poll means he is likely to fail, and one option being considered in Downing Street is for Mr Johnson to trigger a vote of no confidence in himself in order to get an Election.

Number 10 is also considering adopting a 'kick us out strategy' of disrupting proceedings in Brussels to make sure Brexit happens on time. 

If Brussels fails to strike an acceptable deal the UK Government would use legal chicanery to undermine the EU from within. 

However, last night a senior source close to the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier described the plan as 'desperate', while another likened Mr Johnson to 'the drunk at the party' and accused him of 'trying to get thrown out by setting the whole house on fire'.

Under the disruption strategy, Mr Johnson's allies believe that, by refusing to appoint a UK Commissioner to Brussels beyond the end of October, from the start of November the EU will 'no longer be legally constituted' – unless they vote to reduce the number of member countries to 27.

This process would then be vetoed by the UK, which his allies think the EU 'cannot accommodate' and would therefore kick the UK out.

After a torrid week of high drama for the Prime Minister, in other developments:

  • Downing Street sources described as hysterical a warning by former chief prosecutor Lord Macdonald, who said 'the law should be followed' by the PM. The crossbench peer said: 'A refusal in the face of that would amount to contempt of court which could find that person in prison', adding that it was 'not an extreme outcome'.
  • Special adviser to the Government Dominic Cummings told aides to hold their nerve in the face of the Remainer 'meltdown' and be 'cool like Fonzies' and they would ultimately 'trounce Corbyn'.
  • Downing Street plans to suspend Parliament as early as tomorrow evening if MPs vote down Mr Johnson's second attempt to trigger an election.
  • Last night, a new poll showed the Conservatives had extended their lead over Labour as pro-Brexit voters return to the party. The Opinium poll for the Observer newspaper puts the Tories on 35, Labour on 25, the Liberal Democrats on 17 and the Brexit Party on 13.
  • Theresa May emerged as the figurehead in a campaign to reverse Mr Johnson's controversial purging of rebellious Tory MPs.
  • Furious Downing Street aides blamed 'wrecker' MPs for destroying nascent talks with European capitals about a two-year time limit on the hated EU backstop.
  • Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom announced that the Tories would run a candidate against John Bercow at the next election, ending his career as Speaker.
  • Nigel Farage offered the Conservatives a pact to 'destroy Corbyn' if Mr Johnson goes for a No Deal Brexit.
  • Former Chancellor Philip Hammond, who lost the party whip after rebelling last week, accused rivals of trying to 'smear' him after The Mail on Sunday was handed a dossier of allegations against him
  • Leaked Cabinet details showed that Michael Gove is preparing to mobilise 1,600 troops to drive petrol tankers to deal with fuel shortages in the event of no deal.

On Friday evening Mr Cummings warned Government special advisers 'we have a different interpretation of the legislation' barring a No Deal Brexit, going even further than the Mr Johnson, who said on Friday that the Bill only obliged the Government to delay our EU departure 'in theory'.

The source said that, while Mr Corbyn was 'hiding' from an election, Downing Street and Conservative Campaign HQ were 'ramping up' preparations for a vote.

Downing Street has begun official negotiations with executives from the BBC, ITV and Sky over live TV electoral events, including a head-to-head between Mr Johnson and Mr Corbyn.

The source added that Brussels would only grant the UK a Brexit extension if the UK engaged in 'sincere co-operation' – which is not the plan. 'If we engage in obstructive behaviour it would lead to the undermining of EU interests and would leave them questioning the UK's membership', the source said.

Lib Dem MEP Luisa Porritt said: 'Trying to get thrown out by setting the whole house on fire is inconsistent with the Government's stated aim, which is to negotiate a deal. Boris Johnson increasingly resembles the drunk at the party.

'His reckless threats risk undermining future trade talks before they have even begun.'

However, the Government source added: 'Nobody should be in any doubt that we will leave on October 31.'

This article has been adapted from its original source.    

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