Johnson Battles Sex Allegations as Opponents Plot: Brexit Update

(Bloomberg) — Boris Johnson is fighting off allegations of sexual impropriety, and his opponents in Parliament are plotting to oust him over his Brexit plans.

Johnson is in Manchester for the Tories’ annual gathering with activists — his first as prime minister — and is still promising to deliver Brexit with or without a deal on Oct. 31. He plans to present the European Union with a new offer in a bid to break the deadlock. But if he can’t get an agreement, it’s still not clear how the government would engineer a no-deal exit now that Parliament has moved to block it. His ministers won’t say what the plan is.

Must read: Boris Johnson Battles Sex Allegations as Brexit Opponents Plot

Key Developments:

U.K. to present more detailed proposal on the Irish border at the end of the weekChancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid says no one knows the exact cost of a no-deal Brexit and promises more fiscal measures to ease the impactJavid makes speech at conference at 2:55 p.m.; he’s already said he would change fiscal rules to allow for more infrastructure spendingOpposition politicians meet in London to discuss their next movesJohnson denies groping a journalist 20 years agoPound edges higher

Minister: Johnson Sex Claims Are ‘Desperate’ (12:45 p.m.)

Business minister Kwasi Kwarteng attacked the people behind allegations of sexual impropriety against Johnson, saying they were a “desperate” attempt to “destabilize” the government’s work.

Kwarteng told Bloomberg in Manchester he believes the prime minister’s denial of claims he groped journalist Charlotte Edwardes 20 years ago.

“What it says to me is that people are desperate because they see Boris as someone who is a winner and they take him seriously as a threat — and that’s why they are trying to destabilize,” Kwarteng said. “I think the prime minister should be allowed to get on with his job and run the country.”

He said he did not know anything about the allegations, was not saying anything about Edwardes, and was “not interested in” the investigations into Johnson’s links to businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri.

Johnson Denies Groping Allegation (12:20 p.m.)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson denied touching journalist Charlotte Edwardes’s thigh 20 years ago, and said voters are more interested in his government’s infrastructure spending plans.

Asked in a pooled television interview if the allegation is true, Johnson replied: “No, and I think what the public want to hear is about what we’re doing to level-up and unite the country.”

Johnson then listed planned road investments and said the government has “revolutionary” plans for buses. “Buses transform people’s lives,” he said. “If you have a good bus route it gives you access to employment that hardly any other transport mode can.”

EU Needs ‘Legally Operational Solutions’ (12:10 p.m.)

EU officials said they’re pleased the U.K. is ready to offer something more constructive to solve the deadlock (see 12 p.m.) but the devil would be in the detail and it couldn’t be more of the same vague ideas that didn’t solve the problems of the Irish border — or promised to solve them at a later date.

“It’s the U.K.’s responsibility to come forward with legally operational solutions that are compatible with the withdrawal agreement,” European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva told reporters in Brussels on Monday. “Then the commission is, and remains, open to examine whether such proposals meet the objectives of the backstop.”

U.K. to Show EU More Detailed Proposals (12 p.m.)

British negotiators will present further proposals to their European Union counterparts at the end of this week, which will contain more detail on the government’s solutions for the Irish border, a U.K. official said.

In a change from the practice so far in talks since Boris Johnson became prime minister, the proposals will be left with the EU, rather than shown to them and taken away, according to the official, who was speaking on condition of anonymity.

Johnson’s team has so far been reluctant to hand over formal papers because they would be quickly disseminated to EU capitals and leaked to the media. The willingness to leave the papers with the EU suggests the U.K. is getting closer to its final position in the talks.

This week’s proposals — which will be more detailed than anything submitted so far — will cover areas where the EU has asked for more detail, including building on proposals for an agri-food zone for the whole of Ireland, the official said.

Grieve: Law Means Confidence Vote Not Yet Needed (11 a.m.)

Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve said he thinks legislation designed to prevent a no-deal Brexit — known as the Benn Act — is “robust” and means members of Parliament do not need to hold a no-confidence vote in the government prior to the legislation taking effect on Oct. 19.

“I’m always vigilant but I think the Benn Act is fit for purpose,” Grieve said.

Grieve said the key question is what happens after a Brexit delay is secured, likely until Jan. 31. A second referendum is the best way out of the impasse, he said, adding that the numbers are likely there in Parliament for a government of national unity to deliver one.

“But it very much depends on whether the Labour Party leadership are prepared to back it and accept the reality that it cannot be led by the Leader of the Opposition,” he said, referring to Jeremy Corbyn.

Grieve’s comments come ahead of a meeting between Corbyn and other opposition party leaders in Westminster, as splits emerge over how to prevent a no-deal Brexit. The Liberal Democrats have made clear they’re not prepared to back Corbyn as a caretaker premier, while there are also divisions over the timing of when to try to bring down the government. The Scottish National Party has indicated a no-confidence vote should be held sooner than later.

Javid Says No One Knows Cost of No-Deal Brexit (Earlier)

Asked about the cost to the economy of a no-deal Brexit, Javid told the BBC: “I don’t think anyone really knows the full proper answer to that question.”

But he promised a fiscal response and said the Bank of England would also act.

He declined to say how the government will pursue a no-deal exit now that Parliament has passed a law to block it. Asked if he knew what the government’s strategy was, he said: “I think I do.”

Javid Says He Trusts Johnson On Grope Allegation (Earlier)

Javid said he’s received a personal denial from the prime minister of allegations that he groped a journalist at a lunch around 20 years ago.

“If you’re referring to these allegations of personal nature that were made a couple of days ago, I’ve talked to the Prime Minister about that and he couldn’t be clearer, absolutely clear that they are completely untrue and I totally trust him on that,” he said during an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today Program.

On Sunday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock retracted his comment that the matter was a personal one, after critics pointed out that the alleged touching happened in a workplace environment. He told Channel Four he trusts the journalist who made the allegation.

–With assistance from Stuart Biggs and Jessica Shankleman.

To contact the reporters on this story: Thomas Penny in London at tpenny@bloomberg.net;Ian Wishart in Brussels at iwishart@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tim Ross at tross54@bloomberg.net, Emma Ross-Thomas, Stuart Biggs

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