Boris Johnson has said he will ignore legislation requiring him to seek an extension to Article 50 if no deal is reached by 19 October, claiming the UK will seek to emulate the fictional character the Hulk who gets stronger as he becomes increasingly angry.
In an interview with the Mail on Sunday, the prime minister said the UK will break out of its “manacles” if negotiations over a deal break down, with the paper reporting Johnson and three of his closest aides have a secret plan to ignore the Benn Act commanding the prime minister to ask Brussels for an extension, without breaking the law.
“Hulk always escaped, no matter how tightly bound in he seemed to be — and that is the case for this country. We will come out on 31 October and we will get it done,” Johnson said.
Politico says “acting like the Hulk seems to have become the government’s official line” as Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay also relished the comparison with the comic book character, saying the Hulk “was a winner and was extremely popular.”
Speaking on Sky’s Sophy Ridge show, Barclay said “extensive talks” were taking place between the government and the EU at both the technical and political level, and repeated the line that the backstop must be removed from the Withdrawal Agreement, but ducked questions on what would replace it.
He is due to accompany Johnson to a meeting with the European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker in Luxembourg today.
The Guardian reports Junker “is expected to ask Johnson to spell out his ideas for replacing the Irish backstop” when the pair meet over lunch.
However, EU officials have rejected Johnson’s claim that “a huge amount of progress” is being made in Brexit talks.
“No, in fact people are a bit dismayed,” said one EU source, describing the mood after the latest talks. “I am not even going to call them negotiations – the last session on Friday did start touching on content – that’s actually quite a step forward … but we still should have been there a long time ago and [an end result] is still quite far away.”
The Home Secretary Priti Patel told the BBC’s Andrew Marr the government is “fully committed” to securing a withdrawal agreement with Brussels by 31 October.
Patel stated no fewer than nine times that the government was aiming for a deal, while not mentioning once the possibility of leaving without an agreement.
“The home secretary’s comments are certain to prompt speculation that the government is edging away from the oft-repeated threat of a Halloween no-deal after MPs passed legislation that would make it unlawful in the absence of parliamentary approval” says The Independent, which notes “they echo a shift in tone from other ministers towards stressing the importance of securing a deal”.
It comes as David Cameron slammed Johnson in his autobiography, For the Record, which is being serialised in The Times.
The former prime minister offered a withering takedown of Johnson, saying he “didn’t believe in” Brexit and backed the leave campaign only to “help his political career”, while accusing the leaders of the Leave campaign of “lying” to the public to win the referendum.