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PM Johnson calls for 12 December election to break #Brexit deadlock

EU Reporter Correspondent

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on Thursday (24 October) for a general election on 12 December to break Britain’s Brexit impasse, conceding for the first time he will not meet his “do or die” deadline to leave the European Union next week, write Kate HoltonElizabeth Piper and Kylie MacLellan.

Johnson said in a letter to opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn he would hand parliament more time to approve his Brexit deal but that lawmakers must back a December election, Johnson’s third attempt to try to force a snap poll.

Just a week before Britain was due to leave the European Union, the bloc looks set to grant Johnson a Brexit delay, something he has repeatedly said he does not want but was forced to request by the country’s divided parliament.

An election is seen by his team as the only way of breaking the deadlock over Brexit after parliament voted in favour of his deal, but then, just minutes later, rejected his preferred timetable which would have met his 31 October deadline.

But he has twice failed before to win the votes in parliament for an election, where he needs the support of two-thirds of its 650 lawmakers. The main opposition Labour Party has repeatedly said it will only back an election when it is sure that he cannot lead Britain out of the EU without a deal.

“This parliament has refused to take decisions. It cannot refuse to let the voters replace it with a new parliament that can make decisions,” he wrote to Corbyn.

“Prolonging this paralysis into 2020 would have dangerous consequences for businesses, jobs and for basic confidence in democratic institutions, already badly damaged by the behaviour of parliament since the referendum. Parliament cannot continue to hold the country hostage.”

In parliament after the government announced the new vote on an election for Monday, Labour’s parliamentary business manager Valerie Vaz did not say whether the party would back the move, saying only it would wait to see what the EU says about a delay on Friday.

More than three years after voting 52%-48% to be the first sovereign country to leave the European project, the future of Brexit is as unclear as ever with Britain still debating when, how or even whether it should go ahead.

Johnson won the top job in July by staking his career on getting Brexit done by Oct. 31, though in the letter he makes clear he is ready to scrap his deadline. Last month, he said he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than ask for a delay.

But several of his aides think he can weather any criticism for failing to meet the deadline at an election by arguing that he was thwarted by lawmakers, doubling down on his team’s narrative of pitting the “people versus the parliament”.

At a meeting of his political cabinet of top ministers, some media reported that there was disagreement over whether the government should try for an early election, fearing that going to the polls before Brexit was settled might damage the governing Conservatives.

But Johnson seems to still hold out hope of securing a deal with Brussels, offering parliament until 6 November to ratify an agreement he settled with the EU last week.

“This means that we could get Brexit done before the election on 12 December, if MPs (members of parliament) choose to do so.”

Labour has long said it cannot back an election until a so-called no deal Brexit is off the table. But if the EU grants an extension until the end of January, that would appear to remove the threat of Johnson taking Britain out of the bloc without an agreement.

By proposing to dissolve parliament on 6 November, that would also be beyond the current 31 October deadline.

Earlier, a senior Downing Street source said Britain would ultimately leave the EU with Johnson’s deal despite the likely additional delay, with the EU considering offering London a three-month flexible Brexit extension.

“This ends with us leaving with the PM’s deal,” the Downing Street source said on on condition of anonymity. “We will leave with a deal, with the PM’s deal.”

All eyes are now on not whether, but by how long, the EU decides to extend the Brexit process: Berlin supports a three-month delay, while Paris is pushing for a shorter one.

While both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron appear to be fatigued by Brexit, they fear a no-deal exit that would almost certainly hurt global growth, roil financial markets and create a potentially deeper EU crisis.

To offer Britain a long extension would take the pressure off British lawmakers to approve Johnson’s deal and open up possibilities such as a referendum on it. A short extension might focus minds in the British parliament.

Brexit was initially supposed to have taken place on March 29 but Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May was forced to delay twice - first to April 12 and then to 31 October - as parliament defeated her Brexit deal by margins of between 58 and 230 votes earlier this year.

Johnson was forced by parliament on Saturday to send a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk requesting a delay until 31 January. He did so reluctantly, sending an unsigned photocopied note, but the correspondence was accepted.

“Our policy remains that we should not delay,” Johnson told parliament on Tuesday after parliament defeated his extremely tight legislative timetable for ratifying the deal he clinched in Brussels a week ago.

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UK sends two navy boats to Jersey after France threatens blockade

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The Mont Orgueil Castle is seen behind an island flag at Gorey Harbour in Jersey, in this February 26, 2008 file photo.  REUTERS/Toby Melville

Britain is sending two navy patrol boats to the British Channel Island of Jersey after France suggested it could cut power supplies to the island if its fishermen are not granted full access to UK fishing waters under post-Brexit trading terms, write Richard Lough and Andrew Macaskill.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged his "unwavering support" for the island after he spoke with Jersey officials about the prospect of the French blockade.

Johnson "stressed the urgent need for a de-escalation in tensions," a spokesperson for Johnson said. "As a precautionary measure the UK will be sending two Offshore Patrol Vessels to monitor the situation."

Earlier, France's Seas Minister Annick Girardin said she was "disgusted" to learn that Jersey had issued 41 licences with unilaterally imposed conditions, including the time French fishing vessels could spend in its waters.

"In the (Brexit) deal there are retaliatory measures. Well, we're ready to use them," Girardin told France's National Assembly on Tuesday (4 May).

"Regarding Jersey, I remind you of the delivery of electricity along underwater cables ... Even if it would be regrettable if we had to do it, we'll do it if we have to."

With a population of 108,000, Jersey imports 95% of its electricity from France, with diesel generators and gas turbines providing backup, according to energy news agency S&P Global Platts.

Jersey's government said France and the European Union had expressed their unhappiness with the conditions placed on the issuance of fishing licences.

Jersey’s external relations minister, Ian Gorst, said the island had issued permits in accordance with the post-Brexit trade terms, and that they stipulated any new licence must reflect how much time a vessel had spent in Jersey's waters before Brexit.

"We are entering a new era and it takes time for all to adjust. Jersey has consistently shown its commitment to finding a smooth transition to the new regime," Horst said in a statement.

The rocky island sits 14 miles (23 km) off the northern French coast and 85 miles (140 km) south of Britain's shores.

The French threat is the latest flare-up over fishing rights between the two countries.

Last month, French trawlermen angered by delays to licences to fish in British waters blocked lorries carrying UK-landed fish with burning barricades as they arrived in Boulogne-sur-Mer, Europe’s largest seafood processing centre.

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Brexit barriers in focus as Northern Ireland's DUP kicks off leadership contest

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Democratic Unionist Party's (DUP) Edwin Poots makes a statement to the media outside Stormont Castle in Belfast, Northern Ireland June 28, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne/File Photo

Northern' Ireland's biggest party was set for its first ever leadership election after its Westminster chief Jeffrey Donaldson threw his hat into the ring, promising to focus on the divisive issue of post-Brexit trade barriers.

Donaldson will stand against Edwin Poots to lead the Democratic Unionist Party at a time of heightened instability in the British province and unionist anger over the installation of a customs border in the Irish Sea.

Both Donaldson and Poots, Northern Ireland's agriculture minister, stopped short of making detailed campaign promises. But Britain, Ireland and the rest of Europe will be watching for any hardening of stances on Brexit or social issues including abortion that could alter the political balance ahead of elections next year.

The DUP currently leads Northern Ireland in a power-sharing government with its Irish nationalist rivals Sinn Fein.

Donaldson or Poots will take over the leadership from Arlene Foster who announced last week she was stepping down as Northern Ireland's First Minister at the end of June, bowing to pressure from party members unhappy at her leadership. Read more

Her departure has added to instability in the region, where angry young pro-British loyalists rioted in recent weeks, partly over the barriers that they feel have cut them off from the rest of the UK.

"I will develop and swiftly implement an agreed programme of meaningful reform and clear policy direction on key challenges like the protocol," Donaldson said in a video announcement, referring to the post-Brexit trading arrangements.

Like Foster, Donaldson, 58, is a former member of the more moderate Ulster Unionist Party. He was part of the negotiating team that stuck a deal to prop up the government of former British Prime Minister Theresa May in 2017.

Once the DUP's support was no longer needed, May's successor Boris Johnson broke the party's "blood red line" and agreed to erect the trade barriers.

Poots, 55, is one of a number of DUP ministers who have protested against the Brexit arrangements by refusing to attend meetings with Irish counterparts established under the 1998 peace deal that ended 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland.

Poots, a young earth creationist who rejects the theory of evolution, announced he was standing last week.

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Statement by Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič following the conclusion of the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement

EU Reporter Correspondent

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European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič warmly welcomes the ratification of the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement, which will now be fully applicable as of 1 May 2021. This comes after an overwhelming vote of consent by the European Parliament on 27 April and subsequent Council decision today, thereby concluding the ratification process. The EU and the UK will exchange letters to that effect.  

"The ratification of the Trade and Co-operation Agreement is good news for European citizens and businesses. It provides a solid foundation for our longstanding friendship, co-operation and partnership with the United Kingdom on the basis of shared interests and values.

"In practice, the Agreement helps avoid significant disruptions, while protecting European interests and upholding the integrity of our Single Market. It also ensures a robust level playing field, by maintaining high levels of protection in areas, such as climate and environmental protection, social and labour rights, or state aid. Moreover, the Agreement includes effective enforcement, a binding dispute settlement mechanism and the possibility for both parties to take remedial measures.

"Democratic scrutiny will continue to be key in the implementation phase of the Agreement in order to ensure faithful compliance. Unity among EU institutions and member states will remain a cornerstone during this new chapter in our EU-UK relations." 

Vice President Šefčovič reiterates that the European Commission looks forward to a strong, constructive and collaborative partnership with the United Kingdom, based on mutual trust and respect. We have far more in common than that which divides us. He will reach out this week to Lord David Frost, co-chair of the EU-UK Partnership Council, to prepare the launch of its work, including the work of Specialized Committees.  

Finally, the Commission will continue to work tirelessly for joint solutions so that the Withdrawal Agreement, and the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland in particular, is also fully implemented and works for the benefit of everyone in Northern Ireland.

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