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We are going to leave the EU on Oct 31, no ifs or buts: UK PM Boris Johnson

Reuters LONDON | Updated on July 24, 2019 Published on July 24, 2019

Britain's new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, delivers a speech outside Downing Street, in London, Britain July 24, 2019.   -  REUTERS

Boris Johnson used his first speech as Prime Minister to vow to lead Britain out of the European Union on October 31 “no ifs or buts”, warning that if the European Union refused to negotiate then there would be a ‘no-deal’ Brexit.

Johnson, who has been hailed by US President Donald Trump as Britain's Trump, is sending the strongest message yet to the EU that he will be taking a distinctly tougher approach to negotiating the Brexit divorce deal.

He enters Downing Street at one of the most perilous junctures in post-World War Two British history - the United Kingdom is divided over Brexit and weakened by the three-year political crisis that has gripped it since the 2016 referendum.

“We are going to fulfil the repeated promises of parliament to the people and come out of the EU on October 31, no ifs or buts,” Johnson, 55, said after arriving at his new residence, No.10 Downing Street.

“We can do a deal without checks at the Irish border,” Johnson said, watched by his girlfriend Carrie Symonds and his staff. “It is of course vital at the same time that we prepare for the remote possibility that Brussels refuses any further to negotiate and we are forced to come out with no deal.”

One of Britain's most prominent Brexit campaigners, Johnson has repeatedly pledged to leave the EU by October 31 — “do or die” — and to inject a new optimism and energy into the divorce, which he argues will bring a host of opportunities.

But his strategy sets the United Kingdom up for a showdown with the EU and thrusts it towards a potential constitutional crisis, or an election, at home.

‘Never mind the backstop’

One of the issues that prevented his predecessor Theresa May getting a divorce deal through UK Parliament was the Irish “backstop” — a provision that would maintain a customs union with the EU if no better solution was found. Johnson was bullish, however. “Never mind the backstop. The buck stops here,” he said.

He said he would ensure “the people” were his boss and that he would accelerate preparations for a “no-deal” Brexit — a threat he intends to use to force a reluctant EU to renegotiate the exit deal it agreed with May but which parliament has rejected three times.

To implement Brexit, Johnson will appoint Dominic Cummings, the campaign director of the official Brexit Vote Leave campaign, as a senior adviser in Downing Street.

Also read: Boris Johnson picks former Brexit campaign director as senior adviser

Earlier May, who had formally tendered her resignation to Queen Elizabeth, left Downing Street after a three-year premiership marred by crises over Brexit. She appeared to be fighting back tears as she was applauded out of the House of Commons chamber.

Johnson had a possible foretaste of turmoil ahead when, as he drove to his audience with the queen, Greenpeace protesters tried - but failed - to block the path of his car as his chauffeur drove around them.

Now formally “Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury”, Johnson' first task will be to appoint key members of the government - names that will give a hint of how he will handle Brexit, Britain's most significant decision in decades.

A new Scottish referendum?

A no-deal Brexit could also prompt Scottish nationalists, who want the UK to remain inside the EU, to seek a fresh referendum on Scottish independence.

Also read: Boris Johnson faces a fight for survival before he’s even won

Many investors say a no-deal Brexit would send shock waves through the world economy and tip the world's fifth largest economic power into recession, roil financial markets and potentially weaken London’s position as the pre-eminent international financial centre, they say.

Brexit supporters say those fears are overblown and the United Kingdom will thrive if cut loose from the European project, which they cast as a German-dominated bloc that is falling far behind its global competitors such as the United States and China.

“If he really wants a 'no-deal', he will get it. We will never push an EU member out, but we cant stop him,” one EU diplomat said. “More likely, his own parliament would.”

Published on July 24, 2019
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