Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 12 November 2019

Brexit: Leaving EU by October 31 is priority for British government says Queen Elizabeth

UK and EU continue talks to try to reach deal before crunch summit this week

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II reads the Queen's Speech during the state opening of Parliament. AFP
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II reads the Queen's Speech during the state opening of Parliament. AFP

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson repeated his pledge to take the country out of the EU by October 31 at the opening of Parliament on Monday, despite the bloc’s warnings that talks were still a long way from a breakthrough.

The British government’s divorce talks with Brussels are continuing with both sides racing to reach a divorce deal before a crucial EU summit starts on Thursday.

Mr Johnson’s legislative agenda was read out by Queen Elizabeth II in the traditional parliamentary opening ceremony.

"My government's priority has always been to secure the United Kingdom's departure from the European Union on October 31," Queen Elizabeth said.

"My government intends to work towards a new partnership with the European Union, based on free trade and friendly co-operation."

Mr Johnson said that the UK was "tired of stasis, gridlock and waiting for change".

He said leaving the EU would allow the country "to tear away that bureaucratic red tape, to set our own rules, and to release the talent, creativity, innovation and chutzpah that exists in every corner of our UK".

Chances of a breakthrough appeared slim until a meeting between Mr Johnson and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar last week, with both leaders saying they could see a “pathway” to a possible deal.

Simon Coveney, Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister, said on Monday that a deal could be possible this week, but: “We’re not there yet."

While Mr Johnson’s spokesman said talks were “constructive”, there was “a lot of work to do".

The main obstacle of the talks is the Irish border and how to manage Customs checks.

Mr Johnson put forward new proposals this month but they were greeted with a mainly negative response from Brussels.

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said on Sunday that "a lot of work remains to be done" after briefing the bloc’s ambassadors on the closed-door talks.

The pound dropped 1.1 per cent against the dollar from a three-month high on Monday as prospects of an imminent deal were reassessed by traders.

Even if a deal were agreed with the EU by the end of the week, Mr Johnson would have to get the bill past MPs at a special sitting of Parliament on Saturday.

The state opening of Parliament is where Queen Elizabeth II performs her ceremonial duty of informing parliament about the government's agenda for the coming year. AFP
The state opening of Parliament is where Queen Elizabeth II performs her ceremonial duty of informing parliament about the government's agenda for the coming year. AFP

The prime minister is ruling without a parliamentary majority, meaning having legislation pass through the House of Commons would need support from opposition MPs, which is unlikely.

A law passed in the Commons last month, known as the Benn Act, states that Mr Johnson must seek an extension to the Halloween deadline if Parliament has not approved a Brexit deal by October 19.

He could refuse to request the delay but this would probably lead to a legal challenge.

"It's up to the Brits to decide if they will ask for an extension," the European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, told Austrian media outlet Kurier.

But an extension would have to be agreed on unanimously by all 27 of the other EU member states.

While the Benn Act requests a delay until January 31, the EU could offer an extension of more or less time.

More than three years after the Brexit referendum, Saturday’s parliamentary sitting is likely to shape how and when the UK will leave the EU.

Most analysts agree the most likely course of events, given Mr Johnson’s lack of majority in the Commons, will be an early general election.

The Queen’s speech on Monday is regarded as an indication of what Mr Johnson and his Conservative Party will campaign on, rather than legislative agenda that would be carried out in the coming weeks.

Alongside the Brexit pledge, the prime minister announced measures ranging from tackling crime to plastic pollution.

Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called the speech, a summary of planned new laws read out by the monarch, a “farce” given Mr Johnson’s “majority of minus 45” MPs.

The UK has fixed-term parliaments of five years and calling a snap poll requires the support of two thirds of 650 MPs in the Commons.

Mr Corbyn and opposition parties last month voted against an early election, fearing it could allow the government to push through a no-deal Brexit.

Updated: October 15, 2019 03:02 AM

SHARE

SHARE