Boris Johnson Promises Oct. 31 Brexit as Law Passes to Rule Out No Deal

Boris Johnson Promises Oct. 31 Brexit as Law Passes to Rule Out No Deal


British Prime Minister

Boris Johnson

stuck to his pledge that the U.K. would leave the European Union on Oct. 31—even as a bill aimed at preventing the country from leaving on that datewithout an agreementbecame law.

In his first meeting with his Irish counterpart,

Leo Varadkar,

since taking over in July, Mr. Johnson on Monday insisted he wanted to leave the EU with an agreement to smooth its departure from the bloc. But although he outlined some ideas, he didn’t give any detail about how he proposed to do it.

“I want to find a deal,” Mr. Johnson said during a news conference in Ireland’s capital. “I have looked carefully at no-deal. Yes, we could do it, the U.K. could certainly get through it, but be in no doubt that outcome would be a failure of statecraft for which we would all be responsible. I would overwhelmingly prefer to find an agreement.”

The biggest obstacle to a deal remains the so-calledIrish backstop, a plan to avoid a physical border emerging after Brexit between Ireland, an EU member, and the U.K region of Northern Ireland. Mr. Johnson has described the proposal, negotiated between his predecessor and the EU, as unacceptable because, he says, it would leave Britain closely tied to the EU indefinitely even after its split.

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Mr. Johnson traveled to Dublin just hours ahead of a vote in Britain’s Parliament that is expected to reject his call for fresh elections for a second time in a week. Opposition lawmakers are refusing to back a general election until they have ruled out the prospect of a no-deal exit on Oct. 31, the current date on which the U.K. is meant to leave the EU. Queen Elizabeth on Monday signed a bill into law aimed at preventing such an exit.

After Monday’s vote, the government will suspend Parliament until mid-October, the government’s spokesman said.

The law that came into effect Monday requires the government to ask the EU to further delay the U.K.’s exit until Jan. 31 if an agreement isn’t secured by Oct. 19 with the bloc. It was passed last week by the House of Commons in a serious defeat for Mr. Johnson’s government. In further blows, two cabinet ministers have since quit his government,including his brother

Jo Johnson

and work and pensions secretary

Amber Rudd.

The demand for such an extension puts Mr. Johnson in a bind. He has pledged to not delay the U.K.’s split with the EU, but now under the law the British government must request the agreement of the other 27 member states for an extension. Brexit has been twice postponed from the original U.K. date of March 29.

European officials say the bloc would agree to such an extension to allow a general election to take place. However, the government’s spokesman said Mr. Johnson would refuse to seek an extension to Brexit from the EU; he wouldn’t answer the question whether the prime minister would resign rather than ask for a delay.

Meanwhile, the government has said it would obey any laws Parliament passes. If Mr. Johnson does quit, it would open the way for a caretaker government to form a majority in the House of Commons and request a delay.

With Parliament suspended, Britain’s political parties will step up their informal election campaigning during a period when they hold their traditional annual conferences. Even though the government’s immediate call for an election is expected to be rejected, most lawmakers say a general election is almost inevitable before the end of the year.

In Dublin, Mr. Johnson said alternative arrangements could achieve the same goal as the backstop and outlined what he described as the “landing zone” for a new solution to replace it. He said this would involve electronic customs checks for goods and common rules on animal health and related agricultural regulations for the two parts of the island.

“If you can do both of those things you can get a long way through the problem,” Mr. Johnson said, without elaborating on the proposals.

Mr. Varadkar appeared skeptical, and reiterated his commitment to the backstop unless the U.K. government comes up with a better alternative. “No backstop is no deal for us,” he said.

An EU spokeswoman said technical talks would continue in Brussels this week between the U.K. and EU. She said the U.K. had discussed some ideas but hadn’t presented any concrete proposals.

In another development on Monday, House of Commons Speaker

John Bercow

said he would step down at the end of October unless a general election is held before then.

Mr. Bercow has drawn criticism from pro-Brexit lawmakers who say he has spurned convention to give pro-EU lawmakers time in the House of Commons to rule out a no-deal exit. His replacement will be chosen by a secret ballot among lawmakers in the first session after he steps down.

—Max Colchester in London contributed to this article

Write toPaul Hannon at[email protected]and Jason Douglas at[email protected]

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