(Bloomberg) — After Parliament blocked his Brexit strategy, and then refused to give him the election he wanted, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is promising to work for a deal with the European Union.
Monday night saw the British premier suffer his sixth consecutive defeat in a vote in the House of Commons, after his attempt to get approval for a snap poll was rejected for a second time.
“This government will press on with negotiating a deal, while preparing to leave without one,” a frustrated Johnson said after the vote. “I will go to that crucial summit in Brussels on Oct. 17, and no matter how many devices this Parliament invents to tie my hands, I will strive to get an agreement in the national interest.”
Johnson’s return after a long summer recess was a disaster. He pushed hard last week to get members of his own Conservative Party to endorse his strategy of guaranteeing to leave the EU on Oct. 31 — even if it meant doing so without a deal — but they refused, and he lost a key vote.
In retaliation, he expelled 21 rebels from the Tory party in Parliament, but had to give up the fight to stop his opponents passing a new law banning him from pursuing a no-deal Brexit.
One cabinet minister and his own brother resigned from Johnson’s government in protest at his approach.
The result of the past week of Parliamentary defeats is that Johnson is required by law either to get a Brexit deal or to seek delay Britain’s departure from the European Union past the current target date of Oct. 31.
Johnson again rejected the second option on Monday evening. “I will not ask for another delay,” he told MPs. “I will not.”
So the premier must find a way around the law, or work to get a Brexit deal through Parliament.
Two people familiar with Johnson’s plans said the government was looking at the former option. In public, he also softened his tone on the most contentious part of the Brexit deal that he has promised to scrap: the so-called backstop guarantee for the Irish border.
The backstop is a policy intended to ensure there’s no need to carry out checks on goods crossing the border between the Republic of Ireland and the U.K. after Brexit. On a visit to Dublin, Johnson said a no-deal Brexit would be a “failure of statecraft” that would damage the British and Irish economies.
He has previously said he wants to abolish the backstop, something the EU has rejected repeatedly. But on Monday, he said the priority was to ensure the U.K. could not be “kept locked in” the provision. That doesn’t necessarily mean the backstop needs to be abolished.
Johnson’s team later insisted nothing had changed, but the prime minister said he was determined to get a deal to allow the U.K. to leave the EU in the next seven weeks.
Parliament is now suspended for five weeks. Even that usually routine matter did not go smoothly on Monday. Politicians including the Commons Speaker John Bercow — who announced he is standing down — registered their protests at Johnson’s decision to enforce an unusually long suspension during a political crisis.
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