LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson lost influence over Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union on Monday when a law came into force demanding he delay Brexit until 2020 unless he can strike a divorce deal at an EU summit next month.
It was unclear what Johnson’s next move in the Brexit crisis would be: while the law will oblige him to seek a delay unless he can strike a new deal, EU leaders have repeatedly said they have received no specific proposals.
As Johnson tries to break the deadlock in London, he will ask parliament a second time for an early general election but is likely to be defeated in a vote at around 2230 GMT on Monday. He will then suspend parliament until Oct. 14.
Brexit, the United Kingdom’s most significant geopolitical move in decades, remains in question more than three years since the 2016 referendum, with possible outcomes ranging from an exit on Oct. 31 without a withdrawal agreement to smooth the transition, to abandoning the whole endeavour.
The bill seeking to block a no-deal exit, passed into law on Monday when it received assent from Queen Elizabeth, will force Johnson to seek a three-month extension to the Oct. 31 deadline unless parliament has either approved a deal or consented by Oct. 19 to leave without one.
“I’m absolutely undaunted by whatever may take place in parliament,” Johnson said in Dublin ahead of talks with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.
“We must get Brexit done because the UK must come out on October 31, or else I fear that permanent damage will be done to confidence in our democracy in the UK,” Johnson said.
Johnson took over as prime minister in July after his predecessor Theresa May failed to push the Withdrawal Agreement through parliament.
Since then, Britain’s three-year Brexit crisis has stepped up a gear, leaving financial markets and businesses bewildered by a array of striking political decisions that diplomats compare to the style of U.S. President Donald Trump.
BlackRock, a U.S. investment firm that manages $6.8 trillion of assets, said a no-deal Brexit or a referendum had become more plausible.
Against the dollar, the pound trimmed gains to stand up 0.3% on the day at $1.2323. It jumped to a six-week high of $1.2385 in London trading after economic data beat forecasts.
HOUSE OF BREXIT
House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, champion of parliament in its move to rein in the prime minister over Brexit, took a veiled swipe at Johnson as he announced on Monday he would stand down from the role, issuing a warning to the government not to “degrade” parliament.
Johnson, a former journalist who derided the EU and later became the face of the 2016 Vote Leave campaign, has repeatedly promised to deliver Brexit on Oct. 31 and has said he will not countenance any delay.
Ireland told Johnson on Monday that he must make specific proposals on the future of the Irish border if there is to be any hope of averting a no-deal Brexit, saying Dublin cannot rely on simple promises.
“In the absence of agreed alternative arrangements, no backstop is no deal for us,” Varadkar, standing beside Johnson outside the Irish government, told reporters. “We are open to alternatives, but they must realistic ones, legally binding and workable and we haven’t received such proposals to date.”
The blunt remarks by Varadkar indicate the difficulty of Johnson’s gamble of using the threat of a no-deal exit to convince Germany and France that they must rewrite an exit agreement struck last November.
“I want to find a deal, I want to get a deal,” Johnson said in Dublin, adding that there was plenty of time to find one before the Oct. 17-18 EU summit.
The law that came into force on Monday does allow for one scenario in which a no-deal Brexit could take place on Oct. 31 – if parliament approved a no-deal exit by Oct. 19.
However the current parliament would be unlikely to switch stance and approve a no-deal exit by then, and Johnson’s opponents are resisting an early election that might change the make-up of parliament.
Additional reporting by Paul Sandle, William James, Kylie MacLellan and Kate Holton; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Frances Kerry