September 26, 2019 / 10:14 PM / 25 days ago

'A walk in the park': Johnson's top adviser on UK's Brexit chaos

LONDON (Reuters) - Dominic Cummings, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s senior adviser, said on Thursday the current Brexit maelstrom was a “walk in the park” compared to the 2016 EU referendum, saying there was no pressure and they were enjoying it, the Daily Telegraph said.

FILE PHOTO: Dominic Cummings, special adviser for Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, walks for a cabinet meeting in Downing Street, London, Britain September 10, 2019. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

Dominic Cummings played a key role in masterminding the leave camp to victory in the vote three years ago and joined Johnson’s staff after he took office in July since when the already chaotic Brexit process has become even more confused.

Johnson has vowed that Britain will leave the European Union on Oct. 31 with or without a divorce deal, but parliament has passed a law to compel him to seek an extension if he has not gotten an agreement by Oct. 19.

At a book launch for a businessman who supported the 2016 Vote Leave campaign, Cummings rejected a suggestion that the government would back a “soft” Brexit because of the pressure to get a deal by Johnson’s deadline at the end of October.

“To put your mind absolutely at rest on that we are not under pressure at all. The referendum was pressure, the referendum was difficult,” Cummings said, according to the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

“This is a walk in the park compared to that. All the Vote Leave team, we are enjoying this, we are going to win, we are going to leave, don’t worry,” he said in a rare public appearance.

In 2016, 17.4 million voters, or 52%, backed Brexit while 16.1 million, or 48%, voted to remain. The country and parliament remain bitterly divided, with no majority support among lawmakers for the main options: a deal, a no-deal exit, a second referendum, or remaining in the EU.

On Tuesday, Johnson suffered a humiliating defeat in Britain’s top court which ruled his suspension of parliament was unlawful, a decision which led to the reconvening of the hostile legislature where he has no majority and has lost a succession of votes.

In a febrile and vitriolic session on Wednesday, Johnson was accused of inflaming tensions which had led to death threats against lawmakers by using words such as surrender and betrayal in his description of those who opposed Brexit.

Johnson has declined to apologize and said delivering Brexit would “lance the boil”. Cummings agreed, saying many lawmakers and those in London were out of touch with the sentiment of the rest of the country.

“The MPs (lawmakers) said we will have a referendum and we will respect the result. Then they spent three years swerving all over the shop. It is not surprising that some people are angry about it,” the Telegraph quoted him as saying.

“For me it says that fundamentally a lot of people in parliament are more of out touch with the country now than they were in summer 2016.”

Cummings, the key figure in Johnson’s Brexit strategy, has been cast by allies as a ruthless strategist who cares little for the conventions of traditional British politics and by enemies variously as an anarchist, Britain’s Rasputin or a political vandal.

He gave no indication of what his plans for Brexit were, but said the current fevered atmosphere could only be addressed by parliament delivering on the 2016 vote.

“If anybody thinks that turning around after three years of abject failure in parliament and then saying ‘no, we are sorry everyone we have completely failed let’s have another vote’. If they think that is going to work and that is going to wash they will get a terrible, terrible shock,” he said.

Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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