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Boris Johnson predicts 'million-to-one' chance of no-deal Brexit
[LONDON] Boris Johnson zigzagged back to a softer Brexit stance, saying there was a "million to one" chance he'd lead Britain into a chaotic split from Europe, as lawmakers maneuvered to make sure he couldn't even if he wanted to.
On Tuesday, the front-runner to be Britain's next Prime Minister had pledged to leave the European Union on Oct 31, with or without a deal to order the process. "Do or die, come what may," he said. A day later he was walking that back, saying he didn't expect Britain to end up in a no-deal scenario, but the country still had to prepare.
"I don't think that's where we're going to end up. I think it's a million to one against, but it is vital that we prepare," he told a leadership contest event Wednesday.
Mr Johnson has built a broad coalition of supporters within the Conservative Party, from arch-Brexiteers to modernisers who wanted to stay in the bloc. He has taken turns to offer each side what they want to hear - both in public and in private.
Members of Parliament (MPs) who oppose a no-deal split because they fear the economic consequences are trying to use the tools of Parliament to prevent the next Prime Minister leaving without an agreement.
They succeeded in forcing current Prime Minister Theresa May to seek an extension earlier this year, but a recent maneuver failed and they now risk running out of time.
Late Tuesday, Conservative MP Dominic Grieve proposed an amendment to government spending limits that would forbid the government from spending money on some areas if there had been a no-deal Brexit that wasn't approved by Parliament. That vote could come next Tuesday.
It's not clear if it will succeed: The move could be too drastic, and too soon, for many of the MPs who are preparing to fight a no-deal Brexit.
Mr Johnson's rival for the premiership, Jeremy Hunt, also wants to renegotiate Ms May's Brexit deal, and says he would leave the bloc without an agreement if it were the only option. But unlike Mr Johnson, he's prepared to extend the Oct 31 deadline if a new accord were in reach.
Mr Johnson's softer tone on Wednesday contrasted with comments made by members of his team earlier in the day. Two colleagues signaled a willingness to ignore Parliament if it tried to block a no-deal Brexit.
"We will leave at the end of October, come what may, that is the legal default position, and Parliament does not have the means to overturn that," Andrea Leadsom told the BBC.
Earlier, Dominic Raab told BBC radio that any motion from MPs to urge Johnson to change course would have "zero legal effect".
Mr Johnson took a more conciliatory line Wednesday, saying he was not "attracted to archaic devices" such as proroguing, or suspending, Parliament in order to ensure the UK leaves on time.
Mr Hunt and Mr Johnson agreed that a general election before Brexit is delivered would bring a disastrous result for the party. Mr Hunt said the Conservatives would be "thrashed" in a general election, putting opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in power.
"I won't fight an election until we've left the European Union because to do so would be absolutely fatal for our party," he said.
Mr Johnson said that "it would be absolutely crazy for any of us to think of going to the country and calling a general election before we get Brexit done."
Mr Johnson indicated he's banking on Parliament to approve a Brexit deal.
He said there's been an outbreak of "common sense" among lawmakers and the politics of the country have changed since March 29, the day the UK was meant to leave the EU, and the last time Ms May tried to push her much-hated agreement through the House of Commons.