LONDON (AP) — Opposition to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s move to suspend Parliament crystalized Thursday amid protests, legal action and a petition that has gathered more than 1 million signatures.
Johnson’s maneuver gives his political opponents even less time to prevent a chaotic no-deal Brexit before the Oct. 31 withdrawal deadline. But the decision outraged critics and is unifying the disparate opposition leaders, who have confirmed they will press on with measures to block a departure from the European Union without a deal despite Johnson’s actions.
“We will seek to try and put through the appropriate legislation in this constrained timetable that the government has now put before us,” said Barry Gardiner, the opposition Labour Party’s spokesman on international trade.
Thousands packed College Green outside Parliament on Wednesday, waving EU flags and placards to express their anger. Smaller rallies took place in other towns and cities, and 25 bishops from the Church of England expressed their concern about the “economic shocks” of a no-deal Brexit on the poor and other vulnerable people.
A petition on a government website demanding that Parliament not be suspended has gotten more than 1 million signatures — guaranteeing that it will be considered for debate.
Legal challenges loom. Lawmakers already are asking a Scottish court to rule that suspending Parliament is illegal. Businesswoman Gina Miller, who won a ruling in the Supreme Court in 2017 that stopped the government from triggering the countdown to Brexit without a vote in Parliament, has another legal challenge in the works. A human rights campaigner has sued in Northern Ireland, arguing that the historic Good Friday accord that brought peace is in jeopardy because of Johnson’s actions.
House of Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg dismissed the fury and described Johnson’s move as constitutional and proper.
“I think the outrage is phony and it is created by people who don’t want us to leave the European Union and are trying very hard to overturn the referendum result and don’t want the benefits of leaving the European Union,” he told the BBC.
Others took a different view, Lawmakers giving interviews near the House of Commons on Thursday had to speak over chants of “Stop the coup! Stop the coup!”
Johnson’s action prompted ruptures across the political spectrum, including among members of Johnson’s Conservative Party. Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, who has differed with Johnson in the past, resigned her leadership post Thursday. Though the popular leader cited family reasons, the timing of such a decision following Johnson’s seismic move suggested that she disagreed with his tactics.
Others in the party are more obviously concerned. Senior Conservative lawmaker Ken Clarke was among those describing the suspension of Parliament as “absurd.”
“He has just given in to the fanatic element of his followers and decided to go hell for leather,” Clarke said. “I hope it will bring together the sensible majority of Parliament who will find some alternative.”
The outpouring of fury followed three years of tensions after the 2016 referendum on EU membership, in which 52% of voters favored withdrawing.
The EU is adamant it will not renegotiate the agreement struck with former Prime Minister Theresa May on the terms of Britain’s departure and the framework of future relations. Without such a deal, Britain faces a chaotic Brexit that economists warn would disrupt trade by imposing tariffs and customs checks between Britain and the bloc, lower the value of the pound and plunge the U.K. into recession. May resigned in defeat after failing three times to secure Parliament’s backing for her divorce deal with the bloc.
Johnson has told European officials that it won’t be possible to agree a deal on Britain’s departure from the bloc without the removal of controversial language on a “backstop” aimed at avoiding the return of a border between EU member Ireland and Britain’s Northern Ireland. He said at the close of the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France, on Monday, that he was “marginally more optimistic,” of progress.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, warned Johnson that he won’t back down.
“In all circumstances, the EU will continue to protect the interests of its citizens and companies, as well as the conditions for peace and stability on the island of Ireland,” Barnier said.
Associated Press writers Lorne Cook in Helsinki, Finland, and Raf Casert in Brussels contributed.
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