- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 4, 2019

President Trump cheered on embattled British Prime Minister Boris Johnson Wednesday in his fight with Parliament over Britain’s looming exit from the European Union, as Vice President Mike Pence prepares to meet with the prime minister Thursday in London.

British lawmakers handed Mr. Johnson his second major defeat in less than 24 hours on Wednesday, voting to advance a bill that would block a “no deal” Brexit that the Conservative prime minister says he will pursue by the Oct. 31 deadline if he can’t strike a new, better deal with the EU.

“He’s a friend of mine, and he’s going at it, there’s no question about it,” a grinning Mr. Trump told reporters. “Boris knows how to win. Don’t worry about him.”

In response to a rebellion in his own party, Mr. Johnson sacked 21 members of the Conservative Party who voted against him and said he’d call for new elections just two weeks before the Halloween deadline, but he failed in that bid late Wednesday.

Mr. Johnson formed a new government on July 24 on the promise of pushing through a separation from the European Union, a thorny issue that former Prime Minister Theresa May couldn’t solve. British politics has been in turmoil since an unexpected victory for the “Leave” campaign in a national referendum in 2016.

Mr. Trump, who is hoping to negotiate a new trade deal with the United Kingdom after it leaves the EU, said he watched some of Mr. Johnson’s sparring with Parliament on television Wednesday.

“He’s in there fighting and he knows how to win,” Mr. Trump said. “He’s going to be OK.”

That’s not a majority opinion in London right now.

Over the prime minister’s strong objections Wednesday, members of the House of Commons advanced a bill that would request another three-month delay in Brexit if there’s no deal in place by the end of October. They’re worried that Mr. Johnson’s “do or die” approach will result in serious economic harm.

Mr. Pence, who arrived in London late Wednesday, said the U.S. still supports the Brexit effort despite obvious hurdles.

“The United States of America stands with the United Kingdom in its decision to leave the European Union,” Mr. Pence told reporters in Iceland. “That was a decision that was made by the people of the United Kingdom in a referendum, now the better part of three years ago.”

He added, “We recognize this is a complex issue” — a reference to the thorny question of what will happen along the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland once the U.K. is no longer in the EU free-trade bloc. Mr. Pence on Tuesday urged Irish officials to negotiate with Mr. Johnson over the border separating Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K.  

All sides are worried that Brexit will usher in a “hard border” full of immigration checks and other hurdles at the dividing line, eroding the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 that ushered in peace after decades of sectarian violence between the Catholic and Protestant communities in the North.

In a second straight day of parliamentary turmoil, the House of Commons voted by 327-299 in favor of the bill, sending it to Parliament’s upper chamber, the House of Lords. The victory margin was fueled by a number of Mr. Johnson’s fellow Conservatives, who deserted the government to protest the prime minister’s handling of Brexit.

Even so, the bill’s fate is unsure. Pro-Brexit peers in the Lords are threatening to try to stop it by filibustering until time runs out.

Mr. Johnson says Britain must leave the EU on Oct. 31, with or without a deal, and wants a national election if the opposition bill becomes law in hope of getting a less obstructive crop of legislators. His opponents, supported by the Conservative Party rebels, warn that crashing out of the bloc without a divorce agreement would cause deep economic harm and produce consumer shortages and new barriers to trade and travel.

“There is very little time left,” said Labor Party lawmaker Hilary Benn as he introduced the measure. “The purpose of the bill is very simple: to ensure that the United Kingdom does not leave the European Union on the 31st of October without an agreement.” The bill would require the government to ask the EU to delay Brexit until Jan. 31, 2020, if it can’t secure a deal with the bloc by late October. The lawmakers hope to pass the bill into law — a process that can take months — by the end of the week, because Mr. Johnson plans to suspend Parliament at some point next week until Oct. 14.

However, the vote for an Oct. 15 election received only a 298-56 margin, short of the required 434 “yes” votes — two-thirds of all House of Commons members. A large number of lawmakers abstained, including much of the Labor Party, because they want a no-deal law in place before agreeing to new elections.

This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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