Johnson Raises Brexit Stakes; Britain Gears Up for Possible Election

Newly appointed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has reiterated his pledge to leave the European Union in October under any circumstance, raising the likelihood that Britain could crash out of the bloc without a deal.In a brutal reshuffle this week, Johnson purged the Cabinet of rivals and rewarded loyalists and pro-Brexit politicians with new government posts.In his first speech to parliament Thursday, Johnson said a golden age awaited Britain after Brexit and promised to leave the EU on the agreed date of Oct. 31.“To do otherwise would cause a catastrophic loss of confidence in our political system,” he told a raucous House of Commons.
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FILE – Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar reacts during an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 24, 2019.No-deal Brexit condemnedThat threat brought condemnation from opposition parties and from the EU itself, which has repeatedly rejected reopening talks on the Withdrawal Agreement. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar described a no deal exit as a British threat.“The only people who can cause no deal is the United Kingdom government. The position of the European Union and the position of Ireland has not changed. The backstop is an integral part of the withdrawal agreement,” Varadkar said Thursday.Parliament rejected the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by May three times.MPs have also threatened to block any attempt to leave the EU with no deal, fearing economic devastation. Johnson has not ruled out suspending parliament to force an exit with potentially huge constitutional implications. Political analyst Mark Garnett of Lancaster University says the parliamentary arithmetic does not favor the new prime minister.“The positions in parliament will be even more entrenched now, and so in a way he faces a more difficult task with parliament than Mrs. May did. All he can hope for is that this message of optimism is going to be echoed back by the country, the country is going to respond to that, and that will make it very much more difficult for parliamentarians to continue in their resistance,” Garnett said.Johnson’s only way through the political quagmire could be to go back to the people, Garnett added.FILE – A group of young people hold up placards during a demonstration to demand a second referendum on Brexit outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Dec. 12, 2018.“As much as anything, his rhetoric is gearing up for a general election campaign in which he is going to invite the British public to choose between optimism and defeatism,” he said. “You can almost see his attack lines being written for him already for that forthcoming election.”The EU might agree to another extension to Brexit to allow for an election. However, polls show no one party gaining a majority and the public deeply split.Despite the new faces in government, Britain is facing the same problems, with no clear end to its ongoing political crisis.

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