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    Brexit: Boris Johnson says deal is possible

    September 11, 2019

    Boris Johnson has said "there is a way" of getting a new Brexit deal, as he defended the decision to suspend Parliament for five weeks. The PM said "loads of people" wanted an agreement, but he was prepared to leave without one if "absolutely necessary”. Parliament will not resume sitting until 14 October, three days before a crucial Brexit summit of EU leaders. The PM, who has met the leadership of Northern Ireland's DUP, said claims this was undemocratic were "nonsense". Amid unprecedented scenes in the Commons early on Tuesday, some MPs protested against the suspension with signs saying "silenced" while shouting: "Shame on you."
    But Mr Johnson rejected claims this was an affront to democracy, saying the opposition parties were given the chance of an election before the Brexit deadline on 31 October but had spurned it. Media captionSome MPs voiced their objection to the suspension in the Commons Opposition MPs said a law blocking a no-deal Brexit must be implemented before there could be any election. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has promised a further referendum on Brexit with a "credible Leave option" versus Remain if he wins the next general election - but the party is unlikely to commit to either option in its manifesto.
    The prime minister held an hour of talks with Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster and her deputy Nigel Dodds in Downing Street. Mrs Foster, whose party has propped up the Conservative government since the 2017 election, issued a statement later indicating it would not support any revised version of Theresa May's Brexit agreement which separated Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. She said renewed talk of a so-called Northern Ireland-only backstop, which would see it remain in the customs union and be bound by EU rules for goods and animal products while the rest of the UK was not, would be "unacceptable".
    "A sensible deal, between the United Kingdom and European Union which respects the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom, is the best way forward for everyone," she said. History teaches us that any deal relating to Northern Ireland which cannot command cross community support is doomed to failure. That is why the Northern Ireland backstop is flawed. "During today's meeting, the prime minister confirmed his rejection of the Northern Ireland only backstop and his commitment to securing a deal which works for the entire United Kingdom as well as our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland."
    The Irish border has proved a key sticking point in attempts to agree a Brexit deal between the UK and the EU. The government has indicated it could support harmonised rules for the agriculture and food sector to prevent the need for any sanitary and other health checks on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. But it has distanced itself from reports that plans for a single EU-UK customs territory in the current withdrawal agreement - rejected three times by MPs - could be replaced with a specific Northern Ireland only "backstop" arrangement.
    Although official negotiations with the EU have yet to restart, the bloc's new trade commissioner said it was positive the UK seemed prepared to "accept some level of divergence between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK". "I remain hopeful that the penny is finally dropping with the UK that there are pragmatic and practical solutions that can actually be introduced into the debate at this stage - albeit at the 11th hour - that may find some common ground between the EU and the UK," Ireland's Phil Hogan told the Irish Times
    The prime minister urges a group of primary school pupils "not to get drunk" at university Parliament was suspended - or prorogued - at just before 02:00 BST on Tuesday amid noisy protests from opposition MPs.During the five-week suspension, parties will hold their annual conferences but no debates, votes or committee scrutiny sessions will take place.
    Boris Johnson will not face Prime Minister's Questions until the period is over and his scheduled questioning by the Commons Liaison Committee on Wednesday has been cancelled. Sarah Wollaston, the Lib Dem chair of the committee, said the PM had gone back on earlier "reassurances" that he would appear, telling BBC's Newsnight she was "appalled" that he was "running away from scrutiny". Parliament's suspension means MPs will not get a third chance to vote for an early election until they return, meaning a poll would not be possible until November at the earliest. In Monday's latest vote, 293 MPs backed the prime minister's motion for an early election, far short of the two thirds needed.
    New legislation, which was granted royal assent on Monday, will force the prime minister to seek a delay until 31 January 2020 unless a deal - or a no-deal exit - is approved by MPs by 19 October. Speaking during a visit to a primary school in London, Mr Johnson said getting ready to leave the EU on Halloween was among the "priorities of the people". He said there "were loads of people around the place", including in Brussels, who wanted to nail down an agreement but he was willing to leave without a deal "if absolutely necessary". "There is a way of getting a deal but it will take a lot of hard work - but we must be prepared to come out without a deal."
    Labour, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, the Independent Group for Change and Plaid Cymru have refused to agree to an election on what they say are "Boris Johnson's terms". Speaking at the TUC Congress on Tuesday, Mr Corbyn said "our priority is to stop no deal - and then have a general election". The Lib Dems, meanwhile, are seeking to put distance between themselves and Labour by saying that if they win power at the next election they will have an "unequivocal" mandate to cancel Brexit entirely.
    At their conference on Sunday, members will debate a motion reaffirming their support for a referendum, but also urging the revocation of Article 50 - the legal process for leaving the EU - a week before the Brexit deadline if no deal has been agreed. The prime minister's self-imposed Halloween Brexit deadline looks further out of reach than a few short days ago. There is the possibility, still, of a deal, with Number 10 today stressing it is still their primary aim. Whispers again about a Northern Ireland-only backstop, and a bigger role for the Stormont assembly, if it ever gets up and running, are doing the rounds.
    Some MPs and some diplomats are more cheerful about the possibilities of it working out. If you squint, you can see the chance of an agreement being wrapped up at pace, although it seems the chances range somewhere between slim and negligible. Read more from Laura.
    Could there be an early general election?
    MPs have twice rejected Prime Minister Boris Johnson's call for an early general election on 15 October, ahead of a crucial European Union summit. Why was Mr Johnson unable to call an election and what are his options? Mr Johnson wants an early election to restore the Conservative Party's majority in the Commons. While calling an early election carries risks, Mr Johnson would aim to end the political stalemate and make it easier to deliver Brexit. Why did Mr Johnson lose last week's vote?Prime ministers used to be able to call an early election at the time of their choosing. But under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, Mr Johnson now needs the support of two-thirds of MPs - at least 434 - to trigger an early poll.
    However, he no longer has a Commons majority. Many MPs were worried that Mr Johnson would not stick to his pledge to hold the election on 15 October. A motion, under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, to call an early election does not specify the day it is to take place. MPs simply vote on whether they agree with the statement "that there shall be an early parliamentary general election".
    Senior Labour figures said they would not vote for an early election while there was a risk the prime minister could move the poll to after 31 October - by which point the UK would have left the European Union. How soon could an election happen? If enough MPs support an early election, the prime minister recommends the date of the poll to the Queen. Parliament would then be dissolved 25 working days before an election takes place. At this point, politicians stop being MPs and they campaign for re-election, if they choose to stand again.
    Boris Johnson says the UK will leave the EU on 31 October "deal or no deal" Now that Parliament has been prorogued - that is, suspended - MPs will not have another chance to vote for an early election until 14 October, when they return. Were they to do so, the earliest an election could be held would be 19 November. However, by convention members debate and vote on a Queen's Speech at the beginning of a new session of Parliament after prorogation. This can take around five days, meaning the date for a new election would be later than 19 November.
    Does the PM have other options? While the Fixed Term Parliaments Act requires a two-thirds majority to sanction an early election, it is not impossible for a government to get round this requirement. It could be achieved by introducing a very short law that calls for an election and adds "notwithstanding the Fixed Term Parliaments Act".
    UK general elections are normally held on a Thursday The advantage of this route, from the government's point of view, is that it would only require a simple majority of MPs to support it (more voting for than against) rather than two-thirds. It would also allow an election date to be set in stone, which might make some MPs more likely to vote for it - although there is no guarantee the government would win. However, this route would take longer. The proposed law would need to clear the House of Lords, as well as the House of Commons. Given that Parliament is due to prorogue (or shut down) this week, getting the legislation passed would be a race against time. There is also a risk that the legislation could be amended - allowing pro-Remain MPs to make changes, such as forcing a further Brexit extension.The government could also ask the Queen to end prorogation early and hold a vote as soon as MPs come back, although this seems unlikely.
    There is a third, extremely high-risk option. If the government was absolutely determined to hold an early election it could, in theory, call a vote of no confidence in itself. If it chose to do this, MPs would have to decide whether they want the current government to continue. If such a vote passes, opposition parties would be allowed two weeks to come together to try to form an alternative government. If this happened, Mr Johnson would be expected to resign and a new prime minister could request a further Brexit delay to prevent a no-deal outcome.
    But, if nothing is resolved after 14 days, a general election is automatically triggered. However, this would be a high stakes strategy, as it completely relies on opposition parties failing to form an alternative government. Catherine Haddon, from the Institute for Government think tank, says the chances of the government calling such a vote are "extremely unlikely". "From a political point of view, calling a vote of no confidence in yourself would look mad," she says.

    Prorogation: How can the government suspend Parliament?

    Parliament has been suspended, just days after MPs returned to Westminster from their summer break. So, why has this happened? Can the prime minister close Parliament? Yes, he can - and has. The official term for shutting down Parliament is "proroguing". MPs do not vote to prorogue - it's a power that rests with the Queen, done on the advice of the prime minister. So, it is within Boris Johnson's gift to ask the Queen to shut Parliament, dramatically reducing the influence of MPs.With Parliament not sitting, MPs will not be able, for example, to hold a vote of no confidence in the government.
    How is Parliament normally closed?Parliament is normally prorogued once a year for a short period - usually in April or May.During this time, all business stops, so most laws that haven't completed their passage through Parliament die a death (although some may be "carried over" to the next session).MPs keep their seats and ministers remain in position - but no debates and votes are held in Parliament.This is different to "dissolving" Parliament - where all MPs give up their seats to campaign in a general election.It is also different to a recess - a break in the Parliamentary session - which was due to take place this year from roughly 13 September to 8 October.So, in theory, prorogation only loses MPs up to seven parliamentary days. But, unlike recess dates which MPs get to approve, they were not consulted.
    It is normal for new governments to shut down Parliament, in order to hold a Queen's Speech, which sets out its plans for the next year or so. The length of time varies - in 2016 Parliament was closed for four working days, while in 2014 it was closed for 13 days. This year, Parliament will be suspended for 24 working days before the new Queen's Speech on 14 October. While prorogation is normal, the timing of it in this case is "clearly hugely controversial", says Maddy Thimont-Jack, of the Institute for Government think tank. Why is it controversial?
    As well as reducing the influence of the elected Parliament in a major decision, it could also make planning for the possibility of no-deal Brexit harder.

    That's because the prime minister - without a sitting Parliament - will not be able to pass laws to cushion the impact of no deal. Such laws, for example, might deal with allocating extra money or resources.

    It also brought the Queen right into the Brexit dispute. Normally, a prime minister's request to the Queen to prorogue is extremely straightforward. In fact, the House of Commons Library says it has been a formality in the UK for more than a century.

    Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
    Image caption
    The power to prorogue Parliament rests with the Queen, done on the advice of the prime minister.
    The government has defended the decision, saying that proroguing Parliament to enable a Queen's Speech will allow the PM to address domestic policies like NHS funding.

    Opponents, on the other hand, say it is undemocratic. When the decision to prorogue was first made public, many MPs were concerned it would limit the time available to find ways to block a no-deal Brexit.

    However, despite having less Parliamentary time, MPs succeeded in passing a law that seeks to extend the Brexit deadline.

    Could prorogation be stopped?
    In response to Mr Johnson's decision to prorogue, the former Conservative Prime Minister Sir John Major announced he would use the courts to try to overturn it.Joining forces with the anti-Brexit campaigner and businesswoman Gina Miller, Sir John said he would challenge the advice the prime minister gave to the Queen.However, on 6 September High Court judges rejected the case. An appeal is expected to be heard at the Supreme Court on 17 September.Scotland's highest civil court will give its judgement this week on a separate challenge to the planned suspension. Three judges are considering an appeal against a ruling that the issue was for politicians and voters to judge, and not the courts.
    In Northern Ireland, a hearing at the High Court in Belfast into the implications of a no-deal exit is due to continue. A campaigner for victims of the Troubles has brought a case arguing that a no-deal exit could jeopardise the Northern Ireland peace process.







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