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Boris Johnson, forced to balance his political vision and the law

September 10, 2019

LONDON, Sep 10 (Reuters / EP) –

The range of options that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, has in the framework of the process of rupture with the European Union has been narrowing in recent days to the point that there is already a law that clashes with political firmness promised by the current tenant of Downing Street.

Parliament approved last week a text that forces Johnson to request an extension of Brexit until January 31 to avoid a divorce without agreement on October 31. It would only avoid such postponement by obtaining the ratification of an agreement before October 19 or an express permission of Parliament for the abrupt exit of the EU.

Johnson has already made it clear that he would rather be “dead in a gutter” before asking for a new extension – it would be the third – and with Parliament paralyzed until October 14 the margin narrows to propose possible alternatives to the line that I can follow the government.

GET A NEW AGREEMENT

The British 'premier' believes that there are still options to negotiate a new agreement with the European Union, for which he has raised among his requirements the withdrawal of the emergency plan raised to avoid a hard border on the Irish border, known as 'backstop' in community jargon.

The European governments have already made it clear that they will not reopen the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by the Government of Theresa May or eliminate the safeguard for the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, which in any case would not apply if before the conclusion of the phase of transition there is a specific agreement for this area.

The agreement, in any case, would require the ratification of the British Parliament, which has already thrown the plan negotiated by May three times because it considers it contrary to the interests of the United Kingdom.

IGNORE THE LAW

The members of the British Government have advanced that they will comply with the law that prohibits a Brexit without agreement, but at the same time they have dropped that they will “test the limits” of that text, which would open the door for the Executive to remove some ace from the sleeve to try to avoid extension.

Since Johnson has repeatedly insisted that he will not ask for such a postponement, the opposition fears that the prime minister will let time pass without sending the letter to the EU, which would open an unprecedented judicial battle, against the clock and of uncertain outcome.

SEND TWO LETTERS

The law promulgated on Monday by Queen Elizabeth II specifies the exact text of the letter that Johnson must send to Brussels, but does not rule out the possibility of a second letter in which the Government poses a different position.

The newspaper 'The Daily Telegraph' has pointed out that this is one of the options that Johnson's team is considering, although this route would also give rise to a cascade of complaints. The former Jonathan Sumption has assured the BBC radio that the second letter would be illegal.

VET THE EXTENSION

Once the extension has been requested, it is necessary that the countries of the European Union unanimously authorize it. The block has already made clear that it wants to settle this issue as soon as possible and without a new delay, but in principle the twenty-seven remaining countries would not have to oppose a request of this draft, although they may add new conditions.

Members of the House of Lords have raised the possibility that it is the United Kingdom that vetoes itself, asking for the extension and at the same time rejecting it as a member of the EU. The British Government has not ruled on this possibility, whose viability is also in doubt.

JOHNSON DIMISION

Johnson could avoid asking for the extension by resigning before the charge. The Government Manual states that if the prime minister resigns, the queen invites the person with more options to obtain the necessary support, which does not necessarily have to be from the same party, to form a cabinet.

The conservative leader could propose as successor to Labor Jeremy Corbyn, so that it is he who requests the postponement of Brexit. The opposition leader has already raised on some occasion the possibility of temporarily placing himself in front of the Executive to avoid an exit without agreement and to call early elections.

Johnson's exit could also occur if Corbyn and other opposition leaders manage to move forward with a motion of censure immediately after parliamentary activity is resumed on October 14. If no alternative candidate achieves sufficient support to head the Government, elections would also be called.

RESUME THE MAY PLAN

The Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by May's team is in a drawer, but it could be put back to the vote if it is considered the least bad option to ensure that the United Kingdom leaves the EU with guarantees on October 31. Several Labor deputies have now dropped that would go from 'no' to 'yes'.

This risky plan would require some kind of nuance to the current agreement, for example to modify the terms of the 'backstop', and it is not even clear that there is time to conclude ratification, to the extent that parliamentary activity resumes on 14 October and the following days will be marked by a European Council and by the debate on the Government's legislative priorities.