LONDON, (AFP): British Prime Minister Boris Johnson denied Thursday that he had lied to Queen Elizabeth II when requesting she suspend parliament this month in the run-up to Brexit.
Johnson asked the British head of state to shutter parliament for five weeks from last Tuesday, claiming it was necessary ahead of rolling out a new domestic agenda.
The unusually long suspension — known as prorogation — was widely seen as a bid to thwart opposition to a no-deal Brexit on October 31 and provoked uproar across the political spectrum as well as legal challenges.
The government was forced Wednesday to release its no-deal Brexit contingency plans after a parliamentary vote, but the opposition has accused it of withholding information.
A Scottish court this week sided with critics of the prorogation, ruling it was “unlawful” and intended to “stymie parliament”.
Asked if he had misled Queen Elizabeth over his motives for the suspension, which will see the House of Commons closed until October 14, Johnson said: “Absolutely not”.
“We need to get on and do all sorts of things at a national level,” he added.
Johnson’s government has appealed against Wednesday’s decision by Scotland’s highest civil court and the case is set to be heard in Britain’s Supreme Court next Tuesday.
In the meantime, parliament remains suspended.
Northern Ireland’s High Court on Thursday dismissed several lawsuits filed there arguing the prorogation was illegal and that a no-deal Brexit would breach the terms of the province’s 1998 peace accord.
Tom Brake, Brexit spokesman for the pro-EU opposition Liberal Democrats, said the government was sitting on internal documents, messages and emails about the decision to prorogue parliament.
“I suspect that those documents… will confirm that the prime minister lied about the reason why,” he told AFP.
“We all know that the reason he wanted to shut down parliament is because he didn’t want parliament holding him to account.”
– ‘Worst-case scenario’ –
Johnson also vowed Thursday that Britain will be ready for a no-deal departure from the EU on October 31 despite his own government’s assessment that planning remained “at a low level”.
The prime minister insisted the government had been “massively accelerating” its preparations since the August 2 internal report, which was disclosed on Wednesday after MPs voted for its release.
He called the “Operation Yellowhammer” forecast, drawn up with input from various departments and which warned of possible civil unrest and shortages of food and medicines following no deal, a “worst-case scenario”.
“All the industries that matter will be ready for a no-deal Brexit,” Johnson said.
“What you’re looking at here is just the sensible preparations — the worst-case scenario — that you’d expect any government to do.”
The documents painted a grim picture of possible “public disorder and community tensions” as well as logjams at Channel ports, threatening supplies, after a no-deal departure.
The Yellowhammer release has also fuelled fears among MPs that a disorderly divorce would be as calamitous as the documents warn.
“These documents are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Brake.
– ‘Landing space’ –
Johnson took office in July promising finally to deliver on the referendum decision by leaving the EU on October 31 no matter what, but finds himself increasingly boxed in.
He lost his parliamentary majority last week after a series of defections and expulsions from his governing Conservative Party amid opposition to his hardline Brexit stance.
Ahead of the shutdown, lawmakers passed a law aimed at preventing a no-deal Brexit, but Johnson has insisted Britain will still depart the EU on October 31.
The British leader wants to renegotiate the divorce terms struck by his predecessor Theresa May, which MPs have repeatedly rejected.
In particular, he wants to change the so-called backstop provisions, which concern ways to keep the Northern Irish border with the Republic of Ireland open in all scenarios.
But European leaders accuse him of offering no viable alternatives.
British negotiators in Brussels this week ruled out accepting a more limited backstop, and emphasised they want the EU to accept alternative arrangements, according to a government spokesperson.
Johnson insisted he remained “very hopeful” of a deal.
“We can see the rough area of a landing space, of how you can do it,” he said.
“It will be hard, but I think we can get there.”
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