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Brexit will happen by Oct 31, despite PM’s unsigned letter: UK govt

But he sends unsigned letter, insists Britain will leave EU by Oct 31

LONDON: The British government insisted yesterday the country will leave the European Union on Oct 31 despite a letter that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was forced by Parliament to send to the bloc, requesting a Brexit delay.

The Brexit maelstrom has spun wildly in the past week between the possibility of an orderly exit on Oct 31 with a deal that Mr Johnson struck last Thursday and a delay after he was forced to ask for an extension late on Saturday.

Mr Johnson's defeat in the British Parliament over the sequencing of the ratification of his deal exposed him to a law passed by those opposed to a no-deal departure, demanding he request a delay until Jan 31.

Mr Johnson sent the request note as required, but unsigned, and added another signed letter arguing against what he cast as a deeply corrosive delay.

"We are going to leave by Oct 31. We have the means and the ability to do so," Mr Michael Gove, the minister in charge of no-deal Brexit preparations, told Sky News.

"That letter was sent because Parliament required it to be sent ... but Parliament can't change the Prime Minister's mind, Parliament can't change the government's policy or determination."

In yet another twist to the running Brexit drama, Mr Johnson sent three letters to Mr Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council.

First, a brief cover note from Britain's EU envoy explaining that the government was simply complying with the law; second, an unsigned copy of the text that the law, known as the Benn Act, forced him to write; and a third letter in which Mr Johnson said he did not want an extension.

"I have made clear since becoming Prime Minister and made clear to Parliament again today, my view, and the government's position, that a further extension would damage the interests of the UK and our EU partners, and the relationship between us," Mr Johnson said in the third letter, signed Boris Johnson.

The EU was clearly bewildered by the contradictory signals from London.

Mr Tusk said he had received the request from Johnson and would start consulting EU leaders on how to react.

Diplomats said yesterday the bloc would play for time rather than rush to decide, waiting to see how things developed in London.

Lawmakers voted 322 to 306 in favour of an amendment that called for the legislation around the withdrawal deal to be approved first.

FRUSTRATE

This turned Mr Johnson's planned finale on its head by obliging him to ask the EU for a delay, and increasing the opportunity for opponents to frustrate Brexit.

Mr Oliver Letwin, the lawmaker behind Saturday's amendment, said yesterday he believed Mr Johnson could probably get his Brexit deal over the line.

But the opposition Labour Party accused Mr Johnson of acting as if he was above the law and said he could end up in court.

Labour's Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said the party would put forward amendments to Mr Johnson's Brexit legislation, particularly aimed at closing the "trap door" to a no-deal Brexit kicking in at the end of a transition period in December 2020. - REUTERS

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