Prime Minister Boris Johnson ignited the Brexit debate Sunday, saying Britain will leave the European Union next month despite a parliamentary bill forcing him to seek an extension from Brussels if there is no deal.
Johnson made his pledge in a television interview in Manchester as thousands of Conservatives arrived for the start of the last big party conference of the year.
The opening day of the conference was dominated by speeches from senior ministers, backing Johnson’s determination to end Britain’s membership of the EU on Oct. 31.
Johnson said the chances of striking a deal with the EU were still possible, adding that efforts were not helped by the Benn Act, the law put forward by veteran Labour politician Hilary Benn which forces Johnson to ask for a Brexit extension if he has not struck a deal by Oct. 19.
The prime minister has come under fire for referring to the law, which won a parliamentary majority as “the surrender act”.
Despite the criticism, Johnson said in his interview: “Obviously the chances of a deal or no deal depend very much on the common sense of our friends and partners. It has not been helped by the ‘surrender act’.”
He said if Brussels suspects or thinks there is a realistic chance Britain can be kept in the EU, it would clearly take away a lot of the government’s negotiating freedom.
Johnson also rejected suggestions that he would resign as prime minister rather than ask for an extension of Britain’s EU membership.
In the conference hall, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay, Leader of the Commons and passionate supporter of Leave, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Cabinet Minister Michael Gove, charged with making arrangements for a no-deal Brexit, all warned of the impact on politics of failing to honor the 17.4 million people who voted Leave in 2016.
With Labour now supportive of a general election with a new referendum offering a “remain” option, and the Liberal Democrats, wanting to revoke Britain’s application to leave the EU, all three politicians described the Conservative Party as the only major party to support leaving.
The highlight of the conference is scheduled to be Johnson’s closing speech Wednesday which will be an indication of the grassroots support for his tough Brexit stand.
While delegates in Manchester will continue what has been described as a “curtain raiser” for a snap election, much of the focus Monday will switch to London.
Main opposition leader, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn is likely to host a meeting Monday of opposition leaders to plan a strategy aimed at averting a no-deal Brexit.
It comes after the Scottish Nationalist Party said it would be prepared to back a Corbyn-led coalition government if parliament supports a vote of no confidence in Johnson’s Conservative government.
The minority Liberal Democrats say they would back a caretaker government, but not if it was led by Corbyn.
Conservative MPs have been primed to return quickly to Westminster if a crucial confidence vote is called while the Manchester conference is underway.