Boris Johnson says he does not want no-deal

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(June 12): Boris Johnson appealed to Tories to make him the next U.K. prime minister and insisted he can be trusted to run the country, in the face of critical questions over his record. He said he doesn’t want a no-deal Brexit but stressed it’s vital for the U.K. to leave the European Union in October, with or without a deal.

Key Developments:

Johnson says he doesn’t want no-deal; will seek to renegotiate
Poll for Daily Telegraph newspaper indicates Johnson could win potential election
Labour is trying to seize control of parliamentary agenda to block a no-deal exit
EU says it’s ready for no-deal
Pound is unchanged; it briefly extended gains as Johnson spoke
Government to Whip MPs Against Labour Brexit Motion (1 p.m.)
Conservative members of Parliament will be told to vote against the Labour-led attempt to take control of the House of Commons agenda to pass legislation to prevent a no-deal Brexit. A person familiar with the government’s position declined to comment on what would happen to Tory MPs who break the whip.

The proposed motion, which is backed by Conservative lawmaker Oliver Letwin alongside the three main opposition parties, aims to take control of the agenda on June 25 to allow legislation to be passed to stop a no-deal Brexit and block plans by some of the Tory leadership contenders to suspend Parliament to prevent lawmakers from getting in their way. A vote is expected on Wednesday.

A Labour spokesman told reporters said there are “other mechanisms” available to reach the same outcome if Wednesday’s effort fails, including a vote of no confidence in the government.

Hammond: ‘Very Difficult’ to Leave EU on Oct 31 (12:30 p.m.)
Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond warned Boris Johnson that his Brexit plans would run into the same problems in the House of Commons and Brussels faced by Theresa May, adding that it would be “very difficult or impossible” to leave the EU on Oct 31. Parliament is not going to change its mind on a no-deal Brexit, he said.

“The parliamentary arithmetic remains exactly the same, the European Union’s position remains exactly the same,” Hammond told the Bloomberg Sooner Than You Think conference in London. “Boris — and any other candidate — is perfectly entitled to say they need to test it themselves, but I can advise them the European Union is not likely to be willing to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement we’ve agreed with them.”

Hammond also warned against courting a no-deal Brexit. “I don’t think it would be in our national interest that we drive at this cliff edge at speed,” he said. Candidates should not make promises on spending and taxation while the risk is there, he said.

“So long as no-deal is a risk we need to retain that war chest to protect our economy from the initial shock of no-deal. There will be a lot of businesses and individuals who need support,” he said. Once the risk of a no-deal Brexit has gone, he said, “it would be safe to release some of that headroom.”

EU Says It’s Ready for ‘Undesirable’ No-Deal (12:25 p.m.)
Over in Brussels, the European Commission gave an update on its contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit. It’s broadly satisfied with the work that’s been done across the bloc’s 27 countries, but warned insurance companies they need to step up. The EU said it’s not planning any further no-deal steps and is ready for what it calls a “possible, although, undesirable, outcome.”

Johnson: There May Be Bumps in the Road (11:47 a.m.)
In a further softening of his tone on the prospect of a no-deal split, Johnson said he is sure he can deliver a “sensible, orderly Brexit” by Oct 31. That’s very similar to the language Theresa May used.

“I’m not going to pretend to you now that everything will be plain sailing,” he said. “There will be difficulties and there may be bumps in the road.” But his team will “hit the ground running” and get the new deal the country needs from Brussels, he said.

As he left the stage, some journalists in the audience complained that he had only taken six questions. The emerging theme of a favorite contender who is reluctant to face media scrutiny is one that could be dangerous for Johnson during the weeks ahead. It was a criticism that was leveled at Theresa May during the 2017 election campaign, and it contributed to her failure to win a majority.

Taking questions from the media after his speech, the Tory favourite brushed aside criticism of his record of gaffes as foreign secretary and insisted the country can trust him to be prime minister.

One reporter put it to Johnson that people who have worked closely with him do not think he is fit to lead the U.K. because of the inflammatory language he has used in the past.

“Of course occasionally some plaster comes off the ceiling as a result of some phrase that I have used,” Johnson said. But too often the public feel politicians are “not speaking as we find.”

If he has offended people, he is sorry. “Of course I am sorry for the offense that I have caused but I will continue to speak as directly as I can,” Johnson said.

Johnson: Not Aiming for No-Deal Brexit (11:15 a.m.)
In his speech, Johnson said he is not aiming to take the U.K. out of the EU with no deal. Instead he wants to get a better deal out of negotiations with Brussels. But he warned that failing to deliver on the 2016 referendum result has deepened the divisions within society over the issue. That’s why he wants to leave by the deadline of Oct 31, he said.

Johnson has had to battle on in his speech, despite a protester heckling noisily from outside the venue. The man continued to shout “stop Brexit” as Johnson spoke. He was clearly audible inside the room.

Closing his speech he said he could beat the left-wing socialist Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. “We can get Brexit done and we can win.”

Attorney General Cox Introduces Johnson Speech (11:10 a.m.)
We need a leader who can out-campaign Nigel Farage and Jeremy Corbyn “at any time and in any corner of our country,” Attorney General Geoffrey Cox said, as he introduced Johnson at his campaign launch.

Can Johnson Reach Beyond Tory Membership? (10:30 a.m.)
At his campaign launch, Johnson will inevitably be asked whether he can appeal beyond the Tory membership, who are effectively picking the U.K.’s next prime minister. It matters if the party finds itself calling a general election to try to alter the parliamentary arithmetic.

Johnson got a timely boost in a ComRes poll for the Daily Telegraph — where he’s a columnist — that showed voters more likely to vote Conservative if he were leader, even predicting a sizable majority in Parliament.

But according to academics Tim Bale of Queen Mary University of London and Paul Webb of the University of Sussex, Johnson’s Brexit stance appeals to the majority of 160,000 registered Conservative members, but only a minority of voters. While only about a quarter of the British public support leaving the EU without a deal, 85% of Johnson’s supporters within the party are keen on doing just that, according to the analysis on The Conversation blog.

Truss Forced to Defend Johnson (7:50 a.m.)
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss, who nominated Johnson for Conservative leader, was forced on the defensive in a series of broadcast interviews ahead of Johnson’s launch.

Asked about Johnson being sacked from a senior position by a former Tory leader after allegedly lying about an extra-marital affair, Truss told BBC radio: “I do not think the British public are interested in Boris’ personal life.” She also faced questions about Johnson’s record as foreign secretary and his character.

Coming Up
Prime Minister Theresa May takes questions in Parliament at noon
EU to publish more no-deal advice
Home Secretary Sajid Javid launches his campaign this afternoon; more hustings follow