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Brexit Live Updates: John Bercow to Step Down as Speaker

John Bercow, the animated speaker of the House of Commons, said on Monday that he would step down by Oct. 31, the day Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union. He said he would not run should a general election be called before then.

“This has been, let me put it explicitly, the greatest honor and privilege of my life, for which I will be eternally grateful,” he said, becoming emotional as he thanked his wife and children for their support.

He also warned lawmakers to respect the process of the parliamentary system, noting, “We degrade this Parliament at our peril.”

The role of speaker has traditionally been an impartial, background figure, but Mr. Bercow brought new aggression to the role throughout the fraught Brexit debates that have dominated discussions in Parliament for years.

His actions — particularly his criticism of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament, and his decision to bar a third vote on Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement and effectively halt the government’s agenda — have made him some enemies in the Conservative Party.

Mr. Bercow’s plan to step down upends a Conservative Party plan to break with longtime convention and field a candidate to challenge him in the next general election. The party had said that Mr. Bercow broke the rules by allowing Parliament to take control of the Brexit process and hobble the government’s position.

Writing in the The Mail on Sunday, Andrea Leadsom, the secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, accused Mr. Bercow of “a flagrant abuse of this process” and of “giving power to the opposition.”

“Bring back an impartial speaker,” she declared.

Last year, when Ms. Leadsom was leader of the House of Commons, Mr. Bercow was accused of calling her a “stupid woman” and “useless.” He admitted to muttering the words during a disagreement but denied insulting her personally.

Legislation that would require Britain to seek another Brexit extension from the European Union if there is no withdrawal agreement by Oct. 19 became law on Monday, a move that Prime Minister Boris Johnson bitterly opposed.

The opposition Labour Party and others have insisted that they will not consider Mr. Johnson’s request to hold a general election until after a no-deal Brexit was ruled out.

That sets the stage for another battle: whether, and when, to hold a general election. The vote on the snap general election is expected to take place between 9 p.m. and the early hours of Tuesday morning.

The success of the no-deal legislation is due in no small part to the decision last week by 21 members of Mr. Johnson’s Conservative Party to defy him on the question of whether to leave without a deal. They were expelled from the party for their defiance.

The Tory revolt against Mr. Johnson, and his ruthless purging of the rebels, have reverberated through British politics, threatening his hold on power.

The prime minister and many of his allies say that Britain must preserve the possibility of leaving without a deal in order to maintain leverage in negotiations with Brussels. Opponents of a no-deal withdrawal say it simply cannot be considered because of the potentially catastrophic consequences for the British economy.

After just one week’s work following the summer vacation, British lawmakers will be sent away again Monday night when Parliament is “prorogued,” or suspended, until Oct. 14, the prime minister’s office said.

Lawmakers will first vote on whether to hold a snap election with the expectation that, as they did last week, they will refuse to give Prime Minister Boris Johnson the two-thirds majority he needs to call a vote next month.

Then Parliament will be suspended after formal announcements in both chambers and a ceremony that includes a cry in Norman French.

The suspension means that, if Mr. Johnson loses on Monday, he would not be able to attempt votes later this week to try to secure the snap election before the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline.

The prime minister, who just had a humbling week in Parliament, will be spared any further appearances there for five weeks. But the absence of lawmakers at a moment of looming national crisis is likely to fuel criticism of Mr. Johnson’s hardball tactics and his determination to leave the European Union next month, without an agreement if necessary.

Lawmakers have passed a bill designed to prevent a no-deal Brexit, and the legislation received its final approval — a procedure known as royal assent — on Monday.

Mr. Johnson’s spokesman said that the prime minister would not break that law, but insisted that he would not request an extension to the Brexit deadline as the new legislation requires if he cannot reach a deal with the European Union or get Parliament’s approval for a no-deal exit.

How Mr. Johnson plans to achieve that was not explained.

Ordinarily, this would be a week of unadulterated excitement in Brussels. On Tuesday, Ursula von der Leyen, who is set to become European Commission president on Nov. 1, is to present her college — or group — of commissioners who will lead different policy areas of the European Union bureaucracy for the next five years.

But Brexit is threatening to put a dampener on this twice-a-decade exercise, as questions of a possible extension to Britain’s withdrawal deadline raise concerns about how the country can remain a member of the bloc without having a commissioner.

The commission, which typically has one representative from each European Union country, has so far refused be drawn into speculation about a potential delay. Mina Andreeva, the commission spokeswoman, said on Monday that the bloc was working under the assumption that Britain would leave by the Oct. 31 deadline.

Other European Union members signaled that they were running out of patience. France, leading a group of nations skeptical of another extension, reiterated its position that any extension would have to come with a detailed plan of what Britain intends to do with the extra time.

“We are not going to do this every three months,” Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French foreign minister said, speaking with the Europe 1 radio program on Sunday.

The British Brexit negotiator, David Frost, is to return to Brussels on Wednesday to continue “technical discussions” with his European counterparts. These twice-weekly meetings in Brussels were heralded as a breakthrough by the British government, but they have so far yielded nothing in terms of an alternative to the Irish border backstop — a major sticking point in current talks.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to try again on Monday to call a general election, a move that is expected to suffer the same fate as a first effort that fell short last week.

Mr. Johnson’s working majority has quickly evaporated, and new elections would give him a chance to re-establish a stable power base. But mistrust among his opponents is so high that they would not support a new vote until the legislation blocking a no-deal exit was locked in.

That has created an unusual situation in which his opponents, who would normally jump at a chance to vote him out of office, are fighting an attempt to hold a new election, which can happen only after a two-thirds majority in Parliament supports it.

“It’s the most sensational paradox,” Mr. Johnson, who came to power less than two months ago, said on Friday. “Never in history has the opposition party been given the chance for election and has turned it down.”

Many lawmakers in the opposition Labour Party want to wait at least until November to hold an election. They fear that a strong victory in October would allow Mr. Johnson to reverse any no-deal legislation.

The battle over an extension has raised the specter of whether Mr. Johnson would risk jail to get his way.

Mr. Johnson has made clear that he wants to complete Brexit by the end of October, declaring that he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than ask the European Union for another delay. But legal experts have warned that he could face jail time if he refused to abide by the bill to prevent a no-deal Brexit, which was approved on Friday and is set to become law on Monday.

On Saturday, the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said, “We’re in quite extraordinary territory when the prime minister says he is above the law.”

A former top prosecutor, Lord MacDonald, told Sky News that if Mr. Johnson refused to request an extension, “that would amount to contempt of court, which could find that person in prison.”

The government appears willing to “test to the limit” the new law, with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab telling reporters that the government would abide by the law, but that it would also “look very carefully” at its “interpretation” of the “bad” legislation.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson began the week in a different European capital, Dublin. But the message was the same as it was last week in London: His vow to leave the European Union without a deal was a non-starter.

“There’s no such thing as a clean break — or just getting it done,” the Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar, said to Mr. Johnson, throwing his own words back at him.

On a chilly, gray day, with the Irish and British flags flapping behind them, Mr. Varadkar and Mr. Johnson both spoke of the need to find solutions. But the gulf between them seemed wide.

The Irish border remains the biggest barrier to a Brexit deal. All sides want to avoid the imposition of significant checks between Ireland, a member of the European Union, and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. A hard border could renew sectarian tensions that raged for decades.

Mr. Johnson has rejected the so-called backstop agreement reached by his predecessor, Theresa May, which would all but keep Northern Ireland inside the single European market for a few years, so that Ireland would not have to inspect goods flowing in from the north.

Mr. Johnson quashed any expectations that he had brought new proposals. He simply restated the case that he made last week to British lawmakers.

“We must get Brexit done because the U.K. must come out on Oct. 31, or else I fear permanent damage will be done to confidence in our democracy in the U.K,” Mr. Johnson said in Dublin on Monday. “I know that this problem of Brexit was not, to be perfectly frank, a conundrum that Ireland ever wished for.”

While both men emphasized the need for a deal, neither seemed to have high expectations for the visit. Mr. Varadkar noted it would be a “herculean task” for Mr. Johnson to negotiate a new deal before the Oct. 31 deadline.

There are fights, and then there are family fights, just as there are insults, and family insults.

From the moment last week when Prime Minister Boris Johnson expelled 21 Conservative rebel lawmakers who defied him in a critical vote, the Tories have been in full family fight mode, and the insults have been colorful, to say the least.

A barrage of insults came from Nicholas Soames, one of the lawmakers who was expelled from the party. Mr. Soames, a grandson of Winston Churchill, took pointed issue with Mr. Johnson — “Boris Johnson is nothing like Winston Churchill” — but especially with Jacob Rees-Mogg, the House of Commons leader who was widely lampooned after he reclined on the front bench of Parliament during the Brexit debate last week.

“He is in serious danger of believing his own shtick,” Mr. Soames told the Times of London on Saturday. “He is an absolute fraud, he is a living example of what a moderately cut double-breasted suit and a decent tie can do with an ultraposh voice.”

Mr. Soames then offered some earthier anatomical imagery before describing Mr. Rees-Mogg’s speech during the Brexit debate as “the lowest form of student union hackery, insolence and bad manners.”

And to think they were once on the same team.

Reporting was contributed by Mark Landler, Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Benjamin Mueller, Michael Wolgelenter, Yonette Joseph and Megan Specia.

Source: NYT > World News

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