Britain and EU Do an Alphonse and Gaston on Brexit

LONDON (AP) — Politicians in Britain and the European Union are looking to each other to break the Brexit deadlock after U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for an early election.

Brexiteers posted banners by the Houses of Parliament in London on Thursday. (AP photo/Matt Dunham)

EU officials are meeting Friday in Brussels to decide whether to grant an extension to the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline, but the French government says Britain must present “a clear scenario” for progress before another delay is granted.

“Our position is that simply giving more time, without political change, without ratification, without an election, would be useless,” Amelie de Montchalin, France’s European Affairs minister, told RTL radio Thursday night.

Those comments follow Johnson’s Thursday decision to call early elections to break the stalemate in Parliament that has blocked a Brexit deal. Johnson said he would ask lawmakers to vote Monday on a motion calling a national poll on Dec. 12.

To call an election, Johnson, who leads a minority government, must win support from two-thirds of the House of Commons. But opposition parties say they won’t vote for early elections until the government secures an extension of the Brexit deadline.

Britain’s biggest opposition party, Labour, has gone a step further, saying it will block plans for an early election unless Johnson eliminates the possibility of leaving the EU without an agreement.

Diane Abbott, the Labour Party’s spokeswoman on domestic affairs, told the BBC her party wants an “explicit commitment” that there will not be a no-deal Brexit, “because we don’t trust Boris Johnson.”

“We want to know that by some mischance we won’t crash out of the EU without a deal, because we’ve said for some time that coming out of the EU without a deal would be absolutely disastrous,” she said.

Until recently Johnson promised that Britain would leave the EU on Oct. 31 with or without a deal, saying it was the only way to put pressure on European officials to make concessions on a withdrawal deal.

Johnson last week secured a new deal with EU leaders, but British lawmakers refused to approve it before an Oct. 19 deadline imposed by Parliament. That forced him to ask the EU to extend the Brexit deadline to the end of January 2020.

There is a consensus among the 27 EU ambassadors meeting Friday in Brussels to grant a delay, but they have yet to agree on the length of the extension. It remains unclear whether an announcement will be made before next week.

Sajid Javid, Britain’s treasury chief, said he believes the EU will approve a three-month extension.

British voters decided to leave the EU in a June 2016 referendum. Parliament rejected former Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal three times, forcing her to step down in July. Johnson renegotiated that deal, but lawmakers on Saturday rejected his plans to fast-track the approval process and ensure Britain’s departure on Oct. 31.

Javid said the only way to break the logjam is to call new elections and get rid of the current “zombie Parliament.”

“Three and a half years ago this decision was made and there’s been delay after delay after delay,” he told the BBC. “And we have to end this, end this uncertainty.”

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