UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, September 12 2019. Picture: POOL VIA RETUERS/DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, September 12 2019. Picture: POOL VIA RETUERS/DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS

London — Boris Johnson’s Brexit troubles deepened as he was forced to deny lying to Queen Elizabeth and the speaker of the House of Commons warned him against illegally forcing Britain out of the EU.

The British prime minister says the only way out of the crisis over the UK’s divorce from the EU is to hold an election and he will press ahead with his campaign to win votes with a speech aimed at pro-Brexit areas in northern England on Friday.

But before he gets a chance to make his case to the public, his battle with opponents of his Brexit plan intensified. Faced with a Scottish court ruling that he acted unlawfully when he advised the queen to suspend Parliament, Johnson was asked whether he had misled the monarch about the reasons, replying he “absolutely” didn’t.

Johnson insisted that the five-week suspension was needed to work on the government’s domestic agenda, though the court ruled that his purpose was to “stymie” parliament.

One intriguing way out for Johnson would be a veto by an EU government against granting the UK another Brexit delay

While Johnson has said he’d rather die than ask the EU for a delay to Brexit, members of parliament passed a law last week saying he must ask for an extension if he doesn’t get a divorce deal by October 19.

Government lawyers have been asked to find ways around the law, but John Bercow, the outgoing speaker of the House of Commons, said Johnson would be acting like a “bank robber” if he refused to delay Brexit. He suggested the UK may need a US-style written constitution to keep the government from trying to skirt laws passed by parliament.

Bercow has been a thorn in the side of the government by allowing parliament time to pass laws on the future of Brexit. On Thursday, he suggested he’d continue to help MPs who want to stop a no-deal Brexit, until he leaves his post on October 31.

“I would imagine that parliament would want to cut off such a possibility and to do so forcefully,” Bercow said in a lecture at the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law in London. “If that demands additional procedural creativity to come to pass, it is a racing certainty that this will happen and that neither the limitations of the existing rule book nor the ticking of the clock will stop it doing so.”

Legal challenges are piling up as Johnson seeks to pry Britain out of the EU on October 31 “come what may.” While he won a Belfast court case related to the Irish border on Thursday, his opponents mounted another. Labour Party donor Dale Vince is filing papers seeking an immediate order that Johnson comply with the Brexit delay law.

Johnson said he’s hopeful of striking a deal with fellow leaders at an EU summit on October 17-18. “We can see the rough area of landing space of how you could do it,” he said in a television interview. “It will be tough, it will be hard, but I think we can get there.”

Yet Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s Brexit negotiator, told European parliament members that there are insufficient grounds for re-opening official negotiations, the Guardian reported.

EU law makers on Thursday signaled willingness to change the Irish border arrangement proposed in the draft Brexit deal, known as the backstop, to make it apply solely to Northern Ireland, rather than to the UK as a whole. Johnson said on Wednesday that he wasn’t ready to accept that option.

One intriguing way out for Johnson would be a veto by an EU government against granting the UK another Brexit delay. That could allow him to comply with the law passed by parliament while also ensuring the UK leaves EU within the timeline he has promised.

On Thursday, Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szijjártó left the door open to potentially vetoing any UK request for an extension and said the EU must take Boris Johnson seriously.

Shortages and public disorder

Government ministers spent Thursday defending their Brexit strategy after the Operation Yellowhammer planning papers revealed the full scale of the damage a no-deal Brexit could cause, including possible shortages of food, fuel and water, public disorder and severe border disruption.

The paper undermines Johnson’s argument that the UK can cope with leaving the EU without an agreement in place. But defence secretary Ben Wallace described it as “a living document”, saying the government is working to minimise risks and will publish a progress report.

“We’re spending the money on doing lots of things to mitigate those assumptions,” Wallace told BBC Radio 4. “We should consider it as ‘This is what would happen if we didn’t do anything about it”.’

With Alex Morales, Marton Eder and Thomas Penny.