Tuesday 20 August 2019

Johnson cancels all leave - and fuels speculation of snap election


Demand: UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has called for a ruling to stop Brexit being forced through during an election campaign. Photo: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
Demand: UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has called for a ruling to stop Brexit being forced through during an election campaign. Photo: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Downing Street has cancelled all leave for government advisers in the run-up to October 31 - fuelling speculation of a snap election before Brexit day.

Chief strategic adviser Edward Lister emailed all special advisers informing them no holidays should be booked until the end of October.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also told civil servants that preparing for a no-deal Brexit must be their "top priority".

In a letter to officials, he said he would "very much prefer" to leave on October 31 with a new agreement with Brussels in place, but he recognised that "this may not happen".

"That is why preparing urgently and rapidly for the possibility of an exit without a deal will be my top priority, and it will be the top priority for the civil service too," he wrote.

The disclosure is likely to be seen as a further attempt to ratchet up pressure on the European Union, driving home the message that the Conservative government is serious about leaving at the end of October, with or without a deal.

The UK minister in charge of preparations also said Britain would spend "whatever it takes" to get ready for a disorderly Brexit.

But Michael Gove has brushed aside suggestions that Mr Johnson needs to urgently take up an invitation for a meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Mr Varadkar has invited the prime minister to Dublin for face-to-face discussions on the Brexit impasse but there is no sign of the meeting taking place any time soon.

Sources in Dublin told the Irish Independent they don't expect Mr Johnson to take up the offer until September.

This will be after the G7 summit where he will meet the leaders of France and Germany as well as European Council President Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Mr Gove, who is on a two-day visit to Northern Ireland, said there were "links at every level" between the UK and Irish governments.

"We will make sure that we safeguard the security of the people on the island of Ireland and we will also make sure that trade continues to flow as freely as possible," he said.

Mr Gove said the UK government still believed a smooth exit was "eminently doable".

Asked what it wants to replace the backstop with, he said Mr Johnson was keen to explore with EU leaders how to strike a deal that MPs could back.

He did not give any further detail.

Mr Gove added that Britain had given an "absolutely cast-iron commitment" not to put any infrastructure on the Border.

The Irish Government has given a similar commitment but says some form of checks will be needed to protect the EU single market.

Meanwhile, UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is urging Britain's top civil servant to rule that the prime minister cannot push through a no-deal Brexit in the middle of a general election campaign.

In a letter to Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill, the leader of the opposition said that it would represent an "unprecedented, unconstitutional and anti-democratic abuse of power" for the UK.

Irish Independent

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