By Elizabeth Piper
LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson is sticking to his Brexit plan and will not seek a delay to Britain’s departure from the European Union at a summit next month, two ministers said on Sunday despite the latest resignation from his government.
After work and pensions minister Amber Rudd’s quit late on Saturday over his Brexit policy, the ministers said Johnson was determined to “keep to the plan” to leave the EU by Oct. 31 with or without a deal to ease the transition.
Johnson’s strategy to leave “do or die” by that deadline has been shaken by the events of recent days, which have prompted critics to describe him as a “tin pot dictator” and deepened uncertainty over how Britain’s 2016 vote to leave the EU will play out.
He has lost his Conservative government’s majority in parliament, expelled 21 rebels from the party and failed to force through a new election. Then his own brother quit, saying he was torn between family loyalty and the national interest.
Saturday’s resignation of Rudd – who backed remaining in the EU in the 2016 referendum when Britain voted 52%-48% to leave – over what she called the government’s disproportionate focus on preparing for a no-deal Brexit has only heightened the sense of crisis.
On Sunday, Rudd denied she was accusing the government of lying over its efforts to negotiate a Brexit deal, saying she was just reporting what she had seen.
“I am saying that 80 to 90% of the work that I can see going on the EU relationship is about preparation for no deal. It’s about disproportion,” she told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show.
“The purpose of this resignation is to make the point that the Conservative Party at its best should be a moderate party that embraces people with different views of the EU.”
But foreign minister Dominic Raab rebutted her view, describing continuing “intense negotiations” in Brussels, and emphasized that Johnson’s government would not be deterred from what some describe as a hardline strategy on Brexit.
“I do also think that on some of these key issues, people need to understand, and the voters get it, that we’ve got to keep to the plan,” Raab told Sky News.
Both he and finance minister Sajid Javid also contradicted EU officials who have said Britain has yet to come up with new suggestions for changes to the Withdrawal Deal agreed by Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May.
Johnson, Javid said, would go to an EU summit on Oct. 17 to try to secure the new deal. May failed in three attempts to get her deal ratified by parliament, where many lawmakers balked at the so-called Northern Irish backstop.
Johnson’s government has promised to get rid of the backstop, an insurance policy to prevent the return of a hard border between the British province of Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland. The EU says the backstop must stand.
“First of all, the prime minister will go to the council meeting on the 17th and 18th (of October), he’ll be trying to strike a deal. He absolutely will not be asking for an extension in that meeting,” Javid told the BBC.
WHAT DO YOU WANT?
But France said Britain was failing to say what it wanted, and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that, as things stood, an extension would not be granted even if Britain asked for one next month.
“It’s very worrying. The British must tell us what they want,” Le Drian told Europe 1 radio.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said if an agreement were to be reached between Britain and the rest of the EU, it would most likely happen at the October summit and not at a meeting with Johnson on Monday.
Britain’s political crisis escalated last week when parliament passed legislation to try to force Johnson to secure a Brexit extension if parliament has not approved either a deal or consented to leaving without agreement by Oct. 19.
Queen Elizabeth is expected to sign it into law on Monday, but Johnson said on Friday he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than request such a delay – something opposition parties say could mean seeing the British prime minister breaking the law.
Raab said the government would examine the Brexit delay bill “to test to the limit what it does actually lawfully require”.
Johnson instead wants a new election on Oct. 15, but opposition parties, led by the Labour Party, said they could not trust him to stick to his word by holding the new vote before Britain is due to leave the EU.
“Until we’ve ruled a no deal off the agenda, I can’t risk, with Boris Johnson being in power, that he wouldn’t somehow impose that on the country,” Labour’s finance policy chief, John McDonnell, told the BBC.
“So we can get no deal off the agenda, then I’d like a general election and part of that would be saying let’s have a (second) referendum.”
(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Mark Heinrich)