Tuesday 15 October 2019

Boris Johnson hints EU leaders could block Brexit delay

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: PA Wire
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: PA Wire

David Hughes and Harriet Line

Boris Johnson has hinted the European Union could veto a further delay to Brexit as he insisted he will get the UK out of the bloc on October 31 with or without a deal.

The Prime Minister, who maintained his attack on the Benn Act which could force him to seek a delay if a deal has not been approved by October 19, said EU leaders would be reluctant to keep a "truculent" UK in the group.

He refused to be drawn on whether he would ask one of his fellow leaders to veto an extension in order to ensure the October 31 deadline was preserved.

As the Conservative Party conference began in Manchester, Mr Johnson:

- Set out plans for 40 new hospitals as the Tories prepare to make the NHS a key battleground in the next general election

- Hit out at the "novel and peculiar" decision by the Supreme Court to rule that his suspension of Parliament was unlawful

- Defended his use of language in the Commons during Wednesday's heated exchanges but apologised if there was a misunderstanding over his use of the word "humbug" in response to an MP's concerns about death threats

- Said resolving the Brexit crisis would be the best thing for "people's overall psychological health"

- Insisted he had "no interest to declare" in response to the storm over his links to American entrepreneur Jennifer Arcuri while he was mayor of London.

Delivering Brexit on October 31 is a totemic pledge for Mr Johnson and he claimed the Benn Act, which he repeatedly called the Surrender Act, was hampering efforts to strike a Brexit deal.

He said that in Brussels "if they think there is a realistic chance that the UK can be kept in", that "takes away a lot of our negotiating freedom of manoeuvre".

Despite the Benn Act he claimed that "of course we can" leave the EU without a deal on October 31.

He refused to set out how he would do that but did not rule out asking another EU leader to veto a request for a delay.

"I'm not going to get into my discussions with any other EU head of state about the negotiations, because they are extremely interesting but they are also delicate," he told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show.

But he added: "It is certainly true that other EU countries also don't want this thing to keep dragging on.

"They don't want the UK to remain in the EU, truculent and mutinous and in a limbo, and not wishing to co-operate in the way that they would like.

"They want a good deal and there's the opportunity now to get a good deal.

"What I would like is for the Government to be able to get on and do that deal, and we are working very hard.

"I'm not going to pretend to you that it's going to be easy."

The fallout continued from Wednesday's stormy Commons session.

Mr Johnson defended his use of words such as "surrender", saying to avoid doing so was "impoverishing the language and diminishing parliamentary debate".

He said: "I think what most people in this country would agree is that Brexit discussion has been going on for far too long and it is true that tempers on both sides have now become inflamed."

But he said that "we haven't got a prayer of uniting the country until we get Brexit over the line".

Describing his Commons exchange with Labour MP Paula Sheriff, Mr Johnson said: "My use of the word 'humbug' was in the context of people trying to prevent me, us, from using the word 'surrender'."

Andrew Marr said Ms Sheriff, who claimed people quoted the Prime Minister's words in death threats to MPs, was talking about something "very specific".

Mr Johnson said: "In that case, that was a total misunderstanding and that was wrong."

He added: "I can certainly say sorry for the misunderstanding, but my intention was to refuse to be crowded out from using the word 'surrender' to describe the Surrender Act."

With the conference opening in Manchester on Sunday, Mr Johnson said the Government was embarking on "the biggest hospital building programme in a generation".

In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, he said spending on the NHS was "absolutely central" to his vision of a "united society and a united country".

Under the plans drawn up by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, he said they would be spending £13 billion on what officials described as "new" hospitals, either with entirely new buildings or gutting existing structures to create state-of-the-art facilities.

Taken alongside the extra £33.9 billion the Government has committed to the NHS each year by 2023, he said it was "the largest sum that has ever been invested in the NHS".

The building plan would begin with a £2.7 billion cash injection for six hospitals over the next five years.

The remaining projects, including up to a dozen smaller rural hospitals, would be completed over the second half of the next decade.

Ministers are also providing £100 million in "seed funding" to help 21 trusts develop plans to rebuild or construct 34 hospitals, including up to a dozen community hospitals in Dorset.

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