British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab defended Friday his government’s decision to suspend Parliament and rejected suggestions that the move will prevent lawmakers from debating the country’s departure from the European Union as concern mounts that a costly and damaging Brexit without any agreement is now more likely.
Britain is due to leave the EU — the first country ever to do so — on Oct. 31; a move that has divided the country and shaken the European project to its foundations. On Wednesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson got Queen Elizabeth II’s approval to suspend Parliament, a move widely criticized by his political opponents who see it as a maneuver to give them even less time to block a chaotic no-deal Brexit.
Johnson previously had refused to rule out such a move, but the timing of the decision took lawmakers — many of whom are on vacation — by surprise.
At talks with EU foreign ministers in Finland, Raab said that “the idea that this is some kind of constitutional outrage is nonsense. It’s actually lawful. It’s perfectly proper. There’s precedent for it.
“We’ve been talking about nothing but Brexit. We’re going to get a chance to scrutinize all aspects of Brexit between now and the end of October,” he told reporters.
His counterparts expressed concern that a no-deal exit from the bloc appears more likely, but most declined to comment on the government’s move, saying it is a matter for Britain to resolve.
“It’s a debate that concerns the British government and Parliament,” said Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders. Meanwhile, he said, Britain’s European partners are still waiting for new proposals to resolve the standoff over the divorce agreement, notably the so-called backstop clause which aims to avoid the return of border controls between Ireland (in the EU) and Britain’s Northern Ireland.
“If we receive some proposals from London we will examine them, as we always do,” said Reynders.
But some ministers were clearly concerned about political developments in London.
“Westminster is the mother of all parliaments, and now you have a situation where that Parliament is in danger of being sidelined. It’s a way of proceeding in a democracy that doesn’t quite conform to the rules,” said Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn. Johnson has insisted he was taking the step so he could outline his domestic agenda.
“I’m worried,” Asselborn said. “A no-deal is a catastrophe. It could cost thousands and thousands of jobs and needlessly create misery. I hope that political reason will prevail.”
Britain has said it will step up its technical meetings with EU in an effort to secure a deal in the weeks that remain. The government said that Brexit negotiators will meet with their EU counterparts twice a week throughout September, with the possibility of additional technical meetings. Two meetings are set for next week.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said he thought the EU would be ready to meet five times a week if it could get the job done, but he said that London must come up with realistic proposals and not simply kick the can down the road.
“It’s got to be credible. It can’t simply be this notion that look, we must have the backstop removed and we’ll solve this problem in the future negotiation without any credible way of doing that. That’s not going to fly, and I think it’s important that we’re all honest about that.”
British government minister Michael Gove was visiting Calais on Friday with France’s customs minister to study Brexit preparations at the busy French port.
Meanwhile, France’s junior minister for European affairs, Aurelie de Montchalin, said on BFM that “given how things are going, it’s probable” that Britain will leave Oct. 31 with no plans for how to handle trade, travel and cross-border business the next morning.