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British Parliament to be suspended as Brexit hangs in balance

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Image: Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaks to the media ahead of his meetin
Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaks to the media ahead of his meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Government Buildings on Sept. 9, 2019 in Dublin, Ireland. -
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Charles McQuillan
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LONDON — Britain's Parliament will be suspended for a month on Monday night as Prime Minister Boris Johnson tries every possible tactic to ensure the country leaves the European Union as planned on October 31.

Parliamentary business will stop after Monday's session, the prime minister's office confirmed, meaning that lawmakers can't sit, debate or pass laws until October 14. This means less time for Johnson's opponents to stop his Brexit plan.

Due to a quirk of Britain's constitutional monarchy, Johnson had to ask the queen for permission to suspend the parliamentary session.

This process, known as prorogation, is legal and has been used before but in this context it is highly controversial — lawmakers have accused Johnson of shutting down democracy in order make sure Brexit isn't stopped.

The move comes as Johnson insisted he will keep his promise of leaving on time in a meeting with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Monday morning.

Johnson traveled to Dublin for his first meeting with the Irish leader and said in a joint press conference that it was still possible the U.K. could reach a deal with the E.U. on the so-called Irish backstop, a key sticking point for Brexit supporters who worry the policy would keep the U.K. subject to European laws.

"I want to get a deal. Like you I've looked carefully at No Deal, I've assessed its consequences both for our country and yours and yes of course we could do it, the U.K. could get through," Johnson said.

"But be in no doubt: That outcome would be a failure of statecraft for which we would all be responsible."

As it stands, the U.K. will automatically fall out of the E.U., the 28-member economic and political club of European nations, at 11 p.m. on October 31 without a withdrawal agreement to ensure a smooth transition. This so-called "No Deal" Brexit comes with dire economic warnings from lawmakers, economists and business leaders.

Slipping in a reference to please the Greek mythology-loving Johnson, Varadkar said: "I think it's going to be a Herculean task for you [to get a deal]. But we do want to be a friend, your ally, your Athena in doing so.

"We must protect the peace and also the burgeoning all-Ireland economy. And that's why for us the backstop continues to be a critical component to the withdrawal agreement unless or until alternatives are found."

The backstop is an insurance policy that guarantees there would be no hard border between the Irish Republic, an E.U. member, and Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K.

A soft border is seen as crucial to maintaining the peace process begun by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which brought power-sharing to Northern Ireland and largely drew the sectarian conflict known as The Troubles to a close.

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Johnson claims that "alternative arrangements" could be used that would negate the need for a backstop, but Varadkar said on Monday that his government has yet to see any evidence of them.

The Dublin meeting came after Johnson suffered a string of defeats in the House of Commons, sawtwo senior ministers walking out of his cabinet, one of them his own brother.

Meanwhile, Johnson will try for a second time to get Parliament to agree to an election on Monday night. According to British law, only lawmakers in the House of Commons can vote to trigger an election before the next scheduled one in 2022. M.P.s voted against an election last Wednesday.

Opposition M.P.s have made clear they will not vote for an election while a "no deal" Brexit remains possible.