A defiant British government doubled down on Sunday, insisting it would leave the European Union in 11 days’ time despite parliament forcing a reluctant prime minister to request another delay.
In a day of high drama on Saturday, MPs in the House of Commons passed up the chance to decide on the revised withdrawal agreement that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had negotiated with the European Union.
That defeat leaves Johnson under mounting pressure to find a way out of paralysing impasse on when and how Britain would leave the EU bloc after Britons narrowly voted to exit in a 2016 referendum.
Late Saturday, Johnson reluctantly sent European Council President Donald Tusk a letter legally imposed on him by parliament requesting an extension — but refused to sign it.
The Conservative leader sent a second, signed letter insisting he was not seeking an extension to the Brexit deadline, which has already been postponed twice, warning that “a further extension would damage the interests of the UK and our EU partners”.
Having failed to back a divorce deal, which Johnson had secured on Thursday, MPs triggered a law requiring him to write to EU leaders asking to delay Brexit, to avoid the risk that Britain crashes out in less than a fortnight’s time.
Senior cabinet minister Michael Gove, the government’s Brexit planning chief, was nonetheless adamant that Britain would leave the EU on schedule.
“Yes. We are going to leave on October 31. We have the means and the ability to do so,” he told Sky News television.
EU ‘fed up’: Raab
The government will bring forward this week the domestic legislation needed to implement the divorce deal, with a first vote as soon as Tuesday.
Separately, it is seeking a new yes-or-no vote on approving the deal on Monday, although this may fall foul of parliamentary procedure.
Commons Speaker John Bercow will rule on whether Johnson can hold a “meaningful vote” on the deal.
“If we get the legislation through then there is no extension. October 31 is within sight,” said Gove.
He said it was dangerous to assume that the 27 other EU leaders would grant an extension.
More than three years on from the June 2016 vote to leave the EU, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told BBC television that from his conversations with other EU capitals, “they are fed up with this now — and we are fed up with it”.
Johnson’s number two added that he was “confident” of leaving on October 31.
The Labour main opposition has lambasted Johnson’s deal as a “sell-out” and voted for the delay.
However, senior figures hinted Sunday that they could let it go through, subject to amendments including a second referendum pitting a divorce deal against remaining in the bloc after all.
“What we are trying to achieve is that this deal in particular, but any deal, is put up against Remain in a referendum,” the party’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer told the BBC.
“And we will have to see tactically how we get there.”
Johnson “might even meet the deadline”, finance spokesman John McDonnell told Sky News.
Europe mulls response
Brussels officials pressed on with plans to ratify the divorce deal as European leaders considered Johnson’s delay request.
Ambassadors and senior officials from the other 27 member states met Sunday.
“The EU is keeping all options open and has therefore initiated the ratification process so that it can be handed over to the European Parliament on Monday,” an EU diplomat told AFP.
“The EU will probably pursue this strategy until there is clarity on the British side,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Tusk will spend a “few days” canvassing member state leaders, and diplomats said this would mean the British parliament will have to vote on Brexit again before hearing their decision on the October 31 departure.
MPs voted by 322 votes to 306 on Saturday to support former Conservative MP Oliver Letwin’s amendment to buy extra time.
Letwin said he would now switch and vote for the deal. Former interior minister Amber Rudd said the same, meaning Johnson is just a few votes short.
“We appear to have now the numbers to get this through,” said Raab.
The Brexit date has already been pushed back twice from March 29, to the fury of those who wanted to chart their own course and abandon the European project after nearly 50 years.
The British government has sent European Union leaders a request to postpone the date of its departure from the bloc, the president of the European Council Donald Tusk said Saturday.
“The extension request has just arrived. I will now start consulting EU leaders on how to react,” Tusk tweeted, referring to a letter the UK parliament forced Prime Minister Boris Johnson to send.
Johnson insists he does not want to postpone Britain’s departure from the European Union beyond the current October 31 Brexit deadline, and says he will not “negotiate” with the Brussels to do so.
But, after he lost a parliamentary vote earlier Saturday, he was compelled by British law to send a letter requesting an extension until January 31, 2020 while parliament works on Brexit legislation.
The decision will come down to the other 27 EU leaders, but it will be Tusk’s job as head of the European Council to gather their views and he could call a special summit to approve an extension.
Alternatively, some EU diplomats believe that a decision could be made through diplomatic channels and issued by Brussels. Either way, an EU source told AFP that Tusk’s consultations “may take a few days”.
British MPs gathered on Saturday for a knife-edge vote on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal for a decision that could see the UK leave the EU this month or plunge the country into fresh uncertainty.
The parliament was holding its first Saturday sitting since the 1982 Falklands War to debate the terms of a divorce agreement Johnson struck with European Union leaders Thursday.
Opposition parties and Johnson’s own Northern Irish allies have rejected the text but the prime minister and his team have spent the past 48 hours frantically trying to win the support of wavering MPs.
The vote is widely seen as too close to call but Johnson warned his deal was still the best way out of the tortuous Brexit process that has left Britain in political turmoil since a 2016 referendum.
“Today we MPs have the chance to free you from the never-ending Brexit saga and move this country forward,” he wrote in The Sun newspaper.
“A difficult, divisive and – yes – painful chapter in cour history would be at an end… We need to get Brexit done.”
Johnson is seeking a clear-cut vote that either approves or rejects the divorce treaty.
But MPs are proposing an amendment for approval of the deal to be withheld unless and until the necessary implementing legislation has passed.
They fear is that even if MPs approve the deal, they will not have enough time to debate the formal withdrawal agreement before the deadline, which could see no-deal Brexit by accident.
Securing a deal was a personal victory for Johnson, a figurehead in the Leave campaign who has vowed to deliver Brexit on October 31 in all circumstances.
But parliament — like the frustrated public — is still divided over how and even if Britain should end 46 years of integration with its closest neighbours.
The debate starts from 0830 GMT and coincides with a mass demonstration to parliament demanding a second referendum, with an option to reverse Brexit.
If the deal passes, Johnson is expected to introduce legislation on Monday to ratify the text, which must be pushed through before the end of the month.
Defeat would trigger a law requiring him to ask EU leaders to delay Brexit for what would be the third time. He has said he would “rather be dead in a ditch” than do so.
Any extension would depend on all 27 EU leaders saying yes.
Johnson took office in July after his predecessor Theresa May failed three times to get her own divorce deal through parliament.
He insists that Brexit must happen this month to end the uncertainty that has weighed on the economy and dominated political and public debate.
However, the vote rests on a knife-edge.
Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which supports Johnson’s minority government, will vote against it because of its arrangements for the British province.
The main opposition Labour Party, led by veteran leftist Jeremy Corbyn, is set against the deal.
“Boris Johnson’s sell-out deal risks triggering a race to the bottom on rights and protections: putting food safety at risk, cutting environmental standards and workers’ rights, and opening up our NHS (National Health Service) to a takeover by US corporations,” said Corbyn.
‘Sick and Tired’
Eurosceptic newspapers urged MPs to back the deal.
The Daily Express front page said: “Respect the will of the people and let’s move on.”
The Daily Telegraph said it was Britain’s best chance for an orderly departure.
“People are sick and tired of the delay and fed up with procedural trickery,” it said of the proposed amendment.
An online Survation poll of 1,025 adults on Thursday and Friday for the Daily Mail found that 50 per cent said MPs should vote for the deal, while 38 per cent said not.
Meanwhile, The Times said: “On behalf of a bored and disillusioned country, increasingly angry with Westminster, MPs should back the deal.”
EU leaders in Brussels this week urged lawmakers to back the deal, to allow both sides to move on to discussing their future relationship.
The deal covers Britain’s financial settlement, protects the rights of EU citizens and sets out a post-Brexit transition period potentially until 2022 to allow both sides to agree new trade terms.
Britain’s government is planning a first post-Brexit budget for November 6, one week after it expects the country to have left the European Union, finance minister Sajid Javid announced Monday.
“This will be the first budget after leaving the EU,” Chancellor of the Exchequer Javid said in a statement.
“I will be setting out our plan to shape the economy for the future and triggering the start of our infrastructure revolution. This is the right and responsible thing to do — we must get on with governing,” he added.
Britain and the EU are currently locked in last-ditch talks to secure a divorce deal ahead of a crunch two-day summit for European leaders in Brussels starting Thursday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson insists that Britain will leave the bloc on October 31 as scheduled, even without an agreement.
But British MPs last month passed a law requiring him to request a Brexit extension if no deal has been finalised by the end of the summit.
It remains unclear how Johnson intends to proceed in such a situation.
Meanwhile, the budget, Javid’s first as chancellor, was expected to build on proposals he set out last month for infrastructure, including hospitals and railways.
However, Jon Trickett, the Labour Party’s Cabinet Office spokesman, was sceptical the budget would be delivered as planned, with opposition parties threatening to topple Johnson’s government and the prime minister himself pushing for a snap election.
“I would be surprised if there is a budget at that time because they’ve no idea whether they’re going to get this Brexit proposal through the House (of Commons) or not,” he told BBC Radio.
Britain’s government on Monday completed the country’s biggest peacetime repatriation that returned 140,000 UK-based Thomas Cook customers stranded abroad after the collapse of the holiday operator.
The final flight arrived at 8.31 am (0731 GMT), touching down at Manchester airport in northern England from Orlando, Florida, said a spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
The flight, with 392 passengers onboard, marks the end of two-week-long Operation Matterhorn — Britain’s biggest repatriation since World War II.
Matterhorn, which involved 150 aircraft from 50 partners worldwide, “required an extraordinary effort from all involved,” CAA chief executive Richard Moriarty said in a statement.
Moriarty paid tribute “to the many amazing former Thomas Cook employees” who helped to make the operation successful.
“It needed an unprecedented team effort from our commercial partners, our friends across government and my colleagues at the CAA,” he added.
The regulator on Monday said it would now launch its largest ever customer reimbursement programme under the Air Travel Organiser’s Licence (ATOL) scheme.
The scheme is a safety net, based on an EU directive and managed by the CAA, which covers tourists who have bought all-inclusive trips with flights and hotels.
“We know that customers are devastated by the cancellation of their holidays,” Moriarty said.
“Those who bought a Thomas Cook ATOL-protected holiday are entitled to a full refund of all the money they have paid towards the cost of their holiday.
“In addition to this, ATOL protected passengers that were abroad when the company went into liquidation might be able to claim for out of pocket expenses.”
Debt-plagued Thomas Cook, which struggled against fierce online competition for years and blamed Brexit uncertainty for a drop in bookings, declared bankruptcy on September 23 after failing to secure fresh funds.
EU and UK officials are to resume talks Monday on Britain’s plans for a managed Brexit after a weekend hiatus during which London was under pressure to revise its proposals.
The European Commission is adamant that, as they stand, “the UK proposals do not provide a basis for concluding an agreement”.
That grates with Britain’s government, which considers the proposals it submitted on Wednesday to be “a fair and reasonable compromise”.
After hours-long talks in Brussels on Friday failed to move the dial, a UK spokesman said: “We want a deal and talks continue on Monday on the basis of our offer.”
Time is running short for the two sides to close the gap.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is determined to take his country out of the the European Union at the end of this month.
An October 17-18 EU summit is to determine whether Britain is headed for a Brexit deal, no-deal, or an extension.
A week’s window
But European diplomats emphasise that London needs to offer revised, viable proposals within days and certainly before the end of next week, so any haggling and legalistic work is done before the summit.
“Everything must move very quickly and any negotiation has to start at the beginning of next week,” one diplomat told AFP. “We will evaluate next Friday whether it’s been possible to bring the positions closer.”
Although Johnson has called his Brexit proposals a broad “landing zone” the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, and his team are unsure how far Britain will budge.
The EU refuses to characterise the talks held so far as negotiations, underlining a preference to stick with a Brexit withdrawal agreement that was struck with Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May but rejected three times by British MPs.
The main sticking point is a “backstop” for Northern Ireland.
That is meant to guarantee no border springs up between the British territory and EU member Ireland, threatening a hard-won peace accord, while also maintaining the integrity of the EU’s single market.
Britain’s current idea for an alternative to the backstop — which would see all the UK, or at least Northern Ireland, remaining in the EU’s customs union — is for untried technology to remove the need for most but not all border checks, and for EU standards on goods to continue to apply in Northern Ireland to facilitate trade.
The border plan is not acceptable for the EU. It sees the potential for rampant smuggling, especially as Johnson intends for the rest of the UK to diverge from EU labour, environmental and tax norms to aim for a regulation-lite economy on Europe’s doorstep.
Nor does the EU agree with a proposal that Northern Ireland’s assembly be given a right to effectively veto the post-Brexit customs arrangement.
If either of those two proposals are red lines for Johnson, it is hard to see the EU moving talks into the negotiation phase.
Yet if he bends on them, he risks losing tenuous support in the UK parliament to maybe pass a Brexit deal, reliant on 10 Democratic Unionist MPs from Northern Ireland and hard-core Brexit MPs in his Conservative Party.
– Extension option –
If thwarted, Johnson’s best bet may lie with early elections.
There he also faces a challenge, with the UK parliament having passed a law requiring him to seek a Brexit extension from the EU by October 19 if he has not reached a deal by then.
British media speculated that Johnson might seek to sabotage any extension request he is forced to make against his will.
One path included his ministers asking an EU member state to block the unanimous approval needed for an extension, with Hungary cited as a likely ally to break EU ranks.
But Budapest denied Britain had approached it with such a request, and a Hungarian foreign ministry source told AFP: “To date there is no request for a delay, hence there is no point in speculating about anything.”
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday proposed a new Brexit plan aimed at removing the need for customs checks at the Irish border, calling the EU-backed approach a “bridge to nowhere”.
Johnson’s plan says “goods movements between Northern Ireland and Ireland will be notified using a declaration”, with physical checks conducted at traders’ premises and not at EU member Ireland’s border with British Northern Ireland.
Britain will give the EU new proposals for a Brexit deal “shortly”, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Tuesday, but rejected reports it would see customs posts along the Irish border.
With 30 days to go until Britain is due to leave the European Union on October 31, Johnson is racing for an agreement to avoid yet another delay.
But the bloc’s leaders have complained they have yet to see a concrete alternative to the current divorce deal — and time is running out.
“We are going to make a very good offer. We will be tabling it formally very soon,” Johnson told BBC television from Manchester, where his Conservative party’s conference is under way.
He declined to give details but media reports said they could be proposed as early as Thursday.
Customs clearance sites
Johnson is seeking to renegotiate the divorce terms struck by his predecessor Theresa May last year but rejected three times by the British parliament.
He is focusing on the most controversial element, the so-called backstop plan to keep Britain subject to EU customs rules to allow goods to flow freely between British Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland after Brexit.
Irish broadcaster RTE reported late Monday that Britain has proposed erecting “customs clearance sites” along both sides of the border but located five to ten miles (eight-16 kilometres) away to keep the actual frontier open.
Citing a “non-paper” provisional plan put forward by London, it said goods moving from one site to another would be monitored in real time on mobile phones or tracking devices placed on trucks.
But Ireland says there cannot be a return to the border infrastructure of the past, warning it could upset the peace process in Northern Ireland.
Foreign minister Simon Coveney swiftly dismissed the leaked proposal as a “non-starter”, a position echoed by the Irish opposition party Sinn Fein.
Norbert Rottgen, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in Germany’s Bundestag lower house of parliament, said it was “not serious”.
Johnson suggested the leak was a previous draft of the plan, insisting: “That’s not what we’re proposing at all.”
However, he said it was “just the reality” there would have to be checks somewhere after Britain leaves the EU’s customs union and single market.
Two weeks left
Johnson took office in July promising to leave the EU on October 31 no matter what after May twice delayed Brexit in her efforts to get a deal.
His pledge is popular with Conservative members and many Brexit voters but MPs in the House of Commons fear a “no deal” exit would be disastrous.
They passed a law requiring him to ask the EU to delay again if he has not reached a divorce deal by a Brussels summit on October 17/18.
“We now have two weeks left to where there are no credible solutions on the table,” Ireland’s Europe Minister Helen McEntee told RTE.
“The ball is very much in the court of the UK, as it has been for months and months at this stage. We are trying to be as accommodating as possible.”
The EU said it had yet to receive any formal proposals but one official said: “We are ready to examine workable proposals that achieve all objectives of the backstop.”
Johnson insisted he was working “very hard” to get a deal and said progress had been made.
He said London had recently made “a big concession” in agreeing that Northern Ireland and Ireland would follow the same EU rules on agriculture, such as the movement of cattle.
‘The point of leaving’
If Johnson gets a deal, it must then pass the House of Commons, where he has no majority and faces significant hostility.
He has riled pro-European MPs with his accusations they are “surrendering” to Brussels and “betraying” the 2016 referendum vote for Brexit.
Hardline eurosceptic MPs have warned they would also reject any deal that does not deliver a clean break.
“We can’t be allowed to become some kind of regulatory satellite of the EU — that is not the point of leaving,” MP Steve Baker said.
Thousands of UK staff who lost their jobs after the sudden collapse of holiday giant Thomas Cook will be offered assistance, Britain said Wednesday.
The Conservative government, alongside the Civil Aviation Authority regulator, is already rushing to fly home 150,000 stranded UK holidaymakers.
At the same time, it has also sought to offer help to the 9,000 UK-based employees who were left without a job. In total, some 22,000 staff around the world were left jobless.
Some of the workforce has been retained to help repatriate thousands of stranded passengers from abroad, but many have already been made redundant.
Debt-plagued Thomas Cook, which struggled against fierce online competition for years and blamed Brexit uncertainty for a recent drop in bookings, declared bankruptcy Monday after failing to secure fresh funds.
“In addition to supporting passengers, we have been working across government to ensure the 9,000 former Thomas Cook employees in the UK and those overseas receive the support that they need as well,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told parliament in a statement on Wednesday.
“The decision by Thomas Cook’s Group Board has been deeply upsetting for employees who are losing their jobs,” said Shapps.
Britain’s jobcentres are now in close contact with Thomas Cook’s liquidators.
The government has also established a task force that will “address the impact on employees and local communities” of the company’s collapse, Shapps said.
“This will help to attempt to overcome barriers to attending training, securing a job and self employment — such as providing childcare costs, tools, work clothes and travel costs,” he said.
Meanwhile, London’s massive repatriation plan for stranded holidaymakers is expected to take two weeks.
About 30,000 people were flown home on Monday and Tuesday, according to the CAA.
The regulator is also working to repatriate a number of pilots and cabin crew who had been stranded abroad due to the timing of its insolvency.
Turning to fierce media and political criticism of the way the debt-plagued company was managed, Shapps added that corporate behaviour would be probed.
Shapps said the government has called upon the Financial Reporting Council “to ensure they prioritise as a matter of urgency” an investigation into both the causes of Thomas Cook’s failure — and the conduct of its directors and auditors.
Prime Minster Boris Johnson on Tuesday questioned whether failing management should receive huge salaries, amid reports that the last five chief executives had pocketed a total of £47 million (53 million euros, $58 million) in pay and bonuses since 2007.
Questions over bonuses
Monday’s bankruptcy followed a lengthy period of chronic financial turmoil after a disastrous series of mergers left it burdened with soaring debt, a large branch network and high costs.
“The travel company went under because successive chief executives failed to steer the group effectively or evolve the business,” said Andy McDonald, transport spokesman for the main opposition Labour party.
McDonald urged the government to make clear that Thomas Cook executives should “return their multi-million-pound undeserved and unwarranted bonuses”.
Shapps replied: “This was in the end a very poorly run business going in the wrong direction at the wrong time.
“He makes a very sensible point querying about the return of bonuses,” adding that the insolvency service had powers to require that they be handed back.