(Bloomberg) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson stood in a police academy in the north of England, giving a speech that was supposed to mark the start of a monthlong snap election campaign.
Instead, the U.K.’s embattled leader was trying to fight back after a series of humiliating defeats for his Brexit strategy, culminating in the resignation of his own brother in protest at his plans.
Out of options, Johnson doubled down on his plan to trigger a general election to win a parliamentary majority so he can fulfill his pledge to take the U.K. out of the European Union — with or without a divorce deal — on Oct. 31. The prime minister didn’t say if he’d resign if he failed, but he did declare that he’d “rather be dead in a ditch” than agree to another Brexit delay.
“We want an election on October 15 and indeed earlier,” Johnson said Thursday. “I really don’t see how you can have a situation in which the British ability to negotiate is absolutely torpedoed by Parliament.”
On stage, surrounded by dozens of police officers, Johnson’s speech was seen as an attempt to get a head start in an election campaign. He reasserted his pledge to recruit 20,000 police officers and trumpeted his commitment to law and order.
Toward the end of the speech, one female police office was faint with sickness and had to sit down. Johnson was over an hour late for his speech in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, and the officers were required to stand there for longer than intended.
Johnson’s speech came after he was forced to give up fighting his opponents in Parliament after losing to them multiple times. Rebels from Johnson’s own Conservative ranks, backed by politicians from rival parties, pushed through a law that could stop him crashing Britain out of the EU with no deal next month. Boxing him in, they then thwarted the government’s attempt to trigger a snap election.
The premier dismayed his colleagues by expelling MPs who rebelled against him from the Conservative Party, including two former chancellors and Winston Churchill’s grandson. By Thursday, the premier’s radical “do-or-die” approach had become too much for his brother.
Announcing his decision on Twitter, Jo Johnson said he he’d been torn between loyalty for his brother, the prime minister, and the “national interest.” He chose the latter and quit as skills minister. He’ll also no longer attend Johnson’s cabinet.
Johnson put on a brave face, but the symbolism couldn’t be clearer.
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“Jo doesn’t agree with me about the EU because it’s an issue obviously that divides families, that divides everybody,” said Johnson, before noting that his brother supports his wider agenda for the country.
Instead, Johnson saved his attacks for Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, who last night blocked the preimier’s attempt to call an early an election. “I think he must be the first Leader of the opposition in history to refuse to have an election. Indeed it seems to me to be a breach of his job description.”
Earlier in the day, Johnson repeated his joke that Corbyn was “chlorinated chicken”, suggesting Corbyn is scared of losing a poll, with a reference to EU environmental rules on washed poultry.
Corbyn has said he can’t trust Johnson to stick to his promise of a Oct. 15 election until the anti no-deal Brexit bill becomes law. And on Thursday, Johnson’s government said it would try again Monday to trigger an election, promising the rebel bill will become law by then.
(Adds prime minister’s comments, location of speech in fifth, sixth paragraphs.)
–With assistance from Kitty Donaldson.
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