[BRUSSELS] The European Union fears Boris Johnson is plotting to persuade Hungary to veto a Brexit delay, in a move that would dramatically raise the risk that Britain will fall out of the European Union without a deal.
Prime Minister Johnson said last week he'd rather be "dead in a ditch" than comply with a vote in Parliament forcing him to ask the EU to postpone Brexit beyond Oct 31.
But officials at the EU - which is broadly in favour of an extension if it's the only way to prevent a no-deal Brexit - are privately voicing fears that one of their own leaders could help Mr Johnson out. If a no-deal divorce is to be avoided, all remaining 27 member states would need to agree with Britain to extend the Brexit negotiating period at an October summit in Brussels.
EU officials privately acknowledge they could do little to stop a rebel leader wielding their veto. They worry that Mr Johnson will try to convince Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has had his own clashes with Brussels over migration and steps to restrict democracy, to help him out. They think the UK sees Mr Orban as an ally who will enjoy the opportunity to stand up against the European establishment.
"If there is such a request we'll make our own decision," Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said in an interview on Thursday in Budapest. "A few large western European member states really want to put an end to this and want it decided one way or another, so probably it won't be our decision that will be key on this issue."
Mr Johnson is in a battle with members of Parliament in London over his plan to take the U.K. out of the EU at any price - with or without an agreement - by the end of October.
He has suffered a succession of setbacks to his Brexit strategy. This month, Parliament voted against his wishes and passed a law requiring him to seek a delay to Brexit rather than crash the country out of the bloc with no deal on Oct 31 if the two sides don't strike an agreement before then.
Britain was due to leave the EU on March 29 but former prime minister Theresa May could not get the deal she negotiated through a skeptical Parliament in London. When she resigned and Johnson took over in July, he promised there would be no more delays to Brexit and stepped up preparations to ensure the UK will be ready to leave without a deal.