Boris Johnson to Make it Illegal to Delay Brexit Date Again

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during his first cabinet meeting since the general election, inside 10 Downing Street in London on December 17, 2019. (Photo by Matt Dunham / POOL / AFP) (Photo by MATT DUNHAM/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
MATT DUNHAM/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will make it illegal for parliament to force the British government to extend the transition period beyond December 31st, 2020.

The move preempts efforts by Remainer activists and parliamentarians — the latter however now in the minority — from forcing the Conservative government to accept another Brexit delay if negotiators do not agree on a deal on the future relationship with the EU by the end of the 11-month transition period.

A Downing Street source told The Times: “Last week the public voted for a government that would get Brexit done and move this country forward — and that’s exactly what we intend to do, starting this week. Our manifesto made clear that we will not extend the implementation period and the new withdrawal agreement bill will legally prohibit government from agreeing to any extension.”

During the last parliament, Mr Johnson had pledged that the UK would leave the EU on October 31st, 2019, “do or die”, with or without a deal, saying that he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than ask a further extension to Article 50. However, in an effort to block a clean-break Brexit, the Remainer-dominated House of Commons passed the Benn Act — dubbed the “Surrender Act” — forcing Prime Minister Johnson to send a letter requesting an extension on October 20th, extending the delay to January 31st, 2020.

While the UK will technically be leaving the EU in January, afterwards begins the negotiating period at the end of which the UK could still leave in a No Deal 2.0 scenario, trading with the bloc on World Trade Organization rules. Johnson has said he will not extend the negotiating period if a deal is not struck; while one Brexit battle is over, Remain campaigners will likely shift focus to forcing a soft Brexit and blocking a WTO relationship.

As the prime minister prepares for his pro-Brexit majority government to pass his Withdrawal Agreement Bill before the end of January, he aims to ensure there will not be a repeat of the Surrender Act by including the new clause. Other changes to the bill will consist of MPs no longer having a vote on extending the transition period and ditching amendments that give MPs oversight on trade negotiations.

The Queen’s Speech is on Thursday, and Prime Minister Johnson is expected to bring his withdrawal bill back to parliament on Friday, and with permission of the Speaker Lindsay Hoyle may have its first and second reading in one day.

ITV’s political editor Robert Peston said that the move is mainly symbolic in that the law can be amended. However, the Conservatives won with an 80-seat majority — the biggest Tory victory since 1987 — and Mr Johnson had said that all of his members back his Brexit plans.

Establishment media has already painted the move as threatening to lead Britain to a “cliff-edge”, as a no-deal Brexit is now back on the table. Liberal Democrat interim leader Ed Davey — who took over after party leader Jo Swinson lost her own seat in the election — claimed it was “reckless” and will throw the entire nation “straight off the no-deal cliff”.

Despite the resounding victory for the Conservatives that campaigned on a pro-Brexit platform, Davey continued that his beleaguered party “will continue to stand up for Remainers up and down the country and oppose Brexit”.

Mr Johnson told his new Cabinet on Tuesday: “The voters of this country have changed this government and our party for the better and we must repay their trust now by working flat out to change our country for the better. We should have absolutely no embarrassment about saying we are a people’s government, and this is a people’s cabinet.

“We are going to be working on the priorities of the British people and that’s what they want us to do. We must recognise people lent us their votes at this election. It was a seismic election but we need to repay their trust and work 24 hours a day, work flat out, to deliver.”

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