UK's Johnson to visit European capitals seeking Brexit breakthrough

Robin MILLARD, Joe JACKSON
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will meet with his EU counterparts this week in his gamble to renegotiate the Brexit divorce bill

Boris Johnson will visit European capitals this week on his first overseas trip as British leader, as his government said Sunday it had ordered the repeal of the decades-old law enforcing EU membership.

Johnson's Downing Street office confirmed he will travel to Berlin on Wednesday for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and on to Paris Thursday for discussions with French President Emmanuel Macron, amid growing fears of a no-deal Brexit in two-and-a- half months.

The meetings, ahead of a two-day G7 summit starting Saturday in the southern French resort of Biarritz, will be his first diplomatic forays abroad since replacing Theresa May last month.

He is expected to push for fresh negotiations over the terms of Brexit or warn that the EU faces Britain crashing out of the bloc on October 31 -- the latest delayed date for its departure.

European leaders have repeatedly rejected reopening an accord struck with May last year but then rejected by British lawmakers on three occasions, despite Johnson's threats that the country will leave then without an agreement.

- 'Political move' -

In an apparent show of intent, London announced Sunday that it had ordered the scrapping of the European Communities Act, which took Britain into the forerunner to the EU 46 years ago and gives Brussels law supremacy.

The order, signed by Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay on Friday, is set to take effect on October 31.

"This is a landmark moment in taking back control of our laws from Brussels," Barclay said in a statement.

"This is a clear signal to the people of this country that there is no turning back -- we are leaving the EU as promised on October 31, whatever the circumstances."

However, analysts said the move was largely symbolic and could be undone.

"If parliament was to force the government to pass an extension, it can easily change the date again," said Maddy Thimont-Jack, a senior researcher at Institute for Government.

"You don't need to do it now... it's just a political move."

- 'National emergency' -

The moves come as Johnson faces increasing pressure to recall MPs from their summer holidays so parliament can debate Brexit.

More than 100 lawmakers, who are not due to return until September 3, have demanded in a letter that he reconvene the 650-seat House of Commons and let them sit permanently until October 31.

"Our country is on the brink of an economic crisis, as we career towards a no-deal Brexit," said the letter, signed by MPs and opposition party leaders opposed to such a scenario.

"We face a national emergency, and parliament must be recalled now."

Parliament is set to break up again shortly after it returns, with the main parties holding their annual conferences during the September break.

Main opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wants to call a vote of no confidence in Johnson's government after it returns and, if successful, take over as a temporary prime minister.

He has vowed to seek an extension to Britain's EU departure date to stop a no-deal Brexit, and then call a general election.

But Corbyn has so far failed to win the backing of other opposition parties for him to lead any new unity government.

- Brexit shortages: report -

Meanwhile, the Sunday Times reported that Britain could face food, fuel and medicine shortages and chaos at its ports in a no-deal Brexit, citing a leaked government planning document.

There would likely be some form of hard border imposed on the island of Ireland, the document implied.

The leaked document, compiled this month by the Cabinet Office ministry and dubbed "Yellowhammer", spells out the likely ramifications of a disruptive EU departure, the newspaper claimed.

But Michael Gove, the minister responsible for no-deal Brexit planning, said it envisaged a "worst case" scenario.

"We don't normally comment on leaks -- but a few facts -- Yellowhammer is a worst case scenario -- v significant steps have been taken in the last 3 weeks to accelerate Brexit planning," he said on Twitter.