LONDON — Boris Johnson said he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than ask Brussels for a further Brexit extension, as he challenged opposition parties to back his call for a general election on October 15.
Speaking at an event in Yorkshire to back his pledge to recruit 20,000 more police officers — and unofficially fire the starting gun on the election campaign — Johnson said the Brexit extension backed by MPs this week was “pointless.”
Asked if he could guarantee he would not, even if bound by law, request from the EU a delay to Brexit beyond October 31, he said: “Yes I can. I’d rather be dead in a ditch.”
Asked if that meant he would sooner resign than delay, he dodged the question but criticized MPs for forcing an extension that he said would cost “a billion pounds a month” and achieve “absolutely nothing.”
MPs have voted for a bill that would prevent a no-deal Brexit on October 31 by forcing Johnson to seek a Brexit extension until January 2020, in the event that no agreement is in place by October 19. The bill is set to become law early next week.
Johnson’s government plans to hold another vote on whether to hold an early election on Monday, after its first attempt failed on Wednesday night. Opposition parties are refusing to back Johnson and on Thursday held discussions on how to proceed. Options open to them include withholding support for a government election motion until the Brexit extension is in force, or holding a vote of no confidence in Johnson’s government that could lead to an election in late October.
Speaking in front of two rows of police officers in Yorkshire, Johnson insisted he did not want an election “at all” but “frankly I cannot see another way.”
In an occasionally rambling speech Johnson also responded to the resignation of his brother Jo Johnson, the universities minister, who announced on Thursday he was standing down as an MP at the next election. Jo Johnson has previously expressed serious concern about a no-deal Brexit and said he had been “torn between family loyalty and the national interest.”
Asked about his brother’s decision, the prime minister said “people disagree about the EU. But the way to unite the country is to get this thing done.”
The event came to an unfortunate end after one of the police officers standing behind Johnson appeared close to fainting and had to sit down. Johnson asked whether the officer was OK, but continued answering a question before wrapping up the press conference.