WASHINGTON/NEW YORK :
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson formed a war cabinet of six senior ministers to plan for exiting the European Union by 31 October, as a key adviser said leaving without a deal had become a very real prospect, the Sunday Times reported.
Johnson’s most senior aide, Dominic Cummings, a key leader in the 2016 Brexit campaign, called advisers to the prime minister’s residence Friday night and told them Brexit will happen “by any means necessary," the Times said. Cummings said Johnson is prepared to suspend Parliament or hold an election to thwart those who may seek to block a no-deal Brexit.
Michael Gove, a Johnson ally writing in the Times, said all agencies will work “flat-out" to prepare to leave without an agreement on the future UK-EU relationship, and he hopes Brussels will reconsider its decision against reopening talks.
“We still hope they will change their minds, but must operate on the assumption that they will not," he wrote. Gove will lead daily meetings—weekends included—of civil servants and advisers until ties with the EU are cut, the newspaper said.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, new Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid said he’s stepping up preparations for no deal, including adding extra border control forces and one of the “biggest ever" public information campaigns. “All necessary funding will be made available to ensure" the country is ready for departure from the bloc, he said.
Johnson’s efforts to renegotiate the withdrawal deal struck by his predecessor Theresa May have been rejected by EU leaders. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told Johnson that the withdrawal agreement—which Parliament has rejected three times—was the “best and only agreement possible."
Johnson spoke on Friday with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a bid to change the minds of EU leaders.
A new poll showed Johnson’s Conservative Party has a slim statistical lead over the Labour Party in the latest ComRes poll for the Sunday Express. The 24-25 July survey is the first to show a Tory lead since early March and gives the Brexit Party its lowest projected vote share since they were included in the survey in May, according to ComRes. Another poll in the Mail on Sunday put support for the Conservatives at 30% to 25% for Labour, but support would flip to a 6 percentage-point edge for Labour if the party ousted its controversial leader Jeremy Corbyn.
A majority in the Express poll, 55%, said Johnson will make a terrible prime minister, with 64% saying he would be better than Corbyn.
But 72% said he should be given a chance to deliver Brexit before new elections are called or the government is toppled.
“While the public agree that he should be given the necessary time to deliver Brexit, a majority are sceptical as to how good he may be as prime minister," said Chris Hopkins, ComRes head of politics.
Johnson on Saturday reiterated that the Irish backstop portion of the agreement—which he said seeks to divide the UK—needs to be dropped from the divorce plan before a broader Brexit deal can be reached.
The new leader in a speech in Manchester said he is confident a deal can be reached, noting he has good relations with many European leaders and is “mystified" by reports claiming otherwise. The backstop provision is hated by many Brexiteers—Johnson included.
In a separate development, May’s former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, met with Labour Party Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer and they agreed to work on plan to block leaving the EU without a deal, the Observer reported.