Firm on Brexit, Johnson warns rebels to fall in line
London: Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday issued a stark warning to rebels within his own Conservative Party to fall in line with his Brexit plans or risk a government led by Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
The warning came amid reports of secret government plans to de-select Tory MPs who vote against Johnson in order to block a no-deal Brexit, as Opposition MPs plan urgent legislation to be tabled when the UK Parliament resumes after its summer recess next Tuesday.
The urgency follows Johnson's announcement to suspend Parliament from the week of September 9 until October 14, depriving MPs of crucial sitting days in which to scrutinise Brexit plans and triggering street protests by thousands across the UK on Saturday against what has been branded a "coup" by the British Prime Minister.
"Jeremy Corbyn has made a historic decision to turn his party into the anti-democratic, referendum-cancelling party. That's his decision. I think it's totally wrong," Johnson told 'The Sunday Times'.
"I just say to everybody in the country, including everyone in Parliament, the fundamental choice is this. Are you going to side with Jeremy Corbyn and those who want to cancel the referendum; are you going to side with those who want to scrub the democratic verdict of the people and plunge this country into chaos? Or are you going to side with those of us who want to get on, deliver on the mandate of the people and focus with absolute, laser-like precision on the domestic agenda. That's the choice," he said.
The UK is set to leave the European Union (EU), with or without an agreement in place, by October 31 after the June 2016 referendum in favour of Brexit.
Johnson took charge at Downing Street in July with a "do or die" pledge on Brexit, demanding that the EU re-consider the controversial Irish backstop before any withdrawal agreement can be finalised for the so-called divorce.
However, the EU has remained firm on what it believes is a non-negotiable insurance policy against
a post-Brexit hard border between EU member-country Ireland and UK territory Northern Ireland.
"The one thing that could undermine the UK's ability to negotiate would be Brussels thinking there's some chance that the referendum could be cancelled and that Brexit could be blocked," Johnson said, in a warning to MPs finalising legislation to block a no-deal chaotic Brexit.
"The people who claim to be campaigning against no deal are making no deal more likely. That's the problem," he claimed.
Labour's shadow Brexit secretary Kier Starmer disagreed with this stance, saying legislation was essential to prevent a damaging Brexit.
"The legislation is intended to ensure we don't leave without a deal, that will require an extension. The length of the extension is secondary, frankly. We have simply got to stop us leaving without a deal," said Starmer.
And, the EU's lead Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier once again categorically rejected Johnson's demands for the Irish backstop to be scrapped.
Writing in 'The Sunday Telegraph', Barnier said: "On the EU side, we had intense discussions with EU member states on the need to guarantee the integrity of the EU's single market, while keeping that border fully open.
"In this sense, the backstop is the maximum amount of flexibility that the EU can offer to a non-member state."
The clash over Brexit is set to dominate next week once Parliament resumes after its customary summer recess on Tuesday.
With Johnson allowing only a few sitting days before suspension the following week, the Opposition MPs are plotting frenzied moves to ensure immediate action.
Meanwhile, thousands of protesters took to the streets over the weekend for coordinated "Stop the Coup" demonstrations against the Parliament suspension confirmed earlier in the week.
Protests were held in more than 30 towns and cities across the UK, including Edinburgh, Belfast, Cambridge, Exeter, Nottingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham.
Parts of central London were brought to a standstill, as people chanted: "Boris Johnson, shame on you".
They also staged a sit-down protest on the roads around Trafalgar Square, before marching to Buckingham Palace shouting: "Whose democracy? Our democracy."