Brexit: EU ministers warn Boris Johnson over looming no-deal ‘nightmare’

‘It is undemocratic to shut off parliament,’ European politicians say. ‘We know that democracy works and we need resist threats to it by any means’

How could a no-deal Brexit be stopped?

“It will look like a kind of nightmare, the day after. We don’t know what will happen with people, with trade, with traffic, it will not be good,” declared Pekka Haavisto, the Finnish foreign minister, contemplating the scenario of a no-deal Brexit.

Mr Haavisto gave his views after Boris Johnson announced he was suspending parliament and as Finland, which holds the presidency of the Council of Europe, was hosting a conference of foreign and defence ministers of the European Union.

The minister said of the prorogation that he did not wish to comment “on the internal affairs of another country”.

However, on the likelihood of this increasing the possibility of the UK crashing out without a deal, he said: “Leaving without a deal is not something we or the other member states want and we have said that. But we are also united in our position on the agreement which was decided, and that remains our position.”

But Finland’s Europe minister, Tytti Tuppurainen, wondered about the threat to British democracy by Mr Johnson’s actions. “Britain has relied on parliamentarianism and parliamentary sovereignty over 300 years. The country is now seriously talking about freezing the work of parliament”, she said.

Pointing out that one of the rallying cries for the Leave campaign was “take back control”, Ms Tuppurainen observed: “So take back control seems to mean the people’s elected representatives can’t make decisions.

“I trust the country’s strong tradition of parliamentarianism will withstand this test. There is still work to be done to ensure that Brexit happens with a withdrawal agreement.”

Urmas Reinsalu, the Estonian foreign minister, insisted that Ireland would not be abandoned in pursuit of a deal. What has happened in London, he acknowledged, made a no-deal Brexit more likely. “As a reality, I would say that is the case and we have to prepare,” he stated.

Stef Blok, the Dutch foreign minister, added: “We still hope it will be possible to avoid a no-deal Brexit and we are looking forward to any proposal from the British government that fits into the withdrawal agreement.”

But Hungary’s foreign minister Peter Szijjarto expressed concern about the long-term legacy of the increasing acrimony, saying: “We hope that the way this divorce will happen will not make it impossible that we have good cooperation afterwards.”

The European ministers spoke to the media about Brexit as furore over parliament’s suspension continued in the UK, with street protests across the country and a petition gathering a million signatures. But the British foreign and defence secretaries kept a low profile on the opening day of the conference.

When asked about the suspension of parliament as he arrived at the meeting, Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, maintained: “It happens every year”.

His Finnish counterpart, Antti Kaikkonen, said he “hoped” that Brexit did not happen even at this late stage, as the loss of British membership would be “unfortunate”. But he also added that the member states would continue to present a common front.

Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, issued a statement before arriving in Finland, saying: “As the UK leaves the EU, we will continue to work together with our European partners on shared challenges. The meetings in Helsinki are an important opportunity to cover key issues – whether it is maintaining the nuclear deal with Iran, countering the increasing threats of cyberattacks, or security of the Balkans.”

Mr Raab had stated soon after being appointed foreign secretary that the Helsinki conference may be an appropriate venue for holding talks with other EU ministers, and was believed to be involved in bilateral meetings on Thursday.

Opposition British politicians had no such reticence.

Wera Hobhouse, a Liberal Democrat MEP, accused Mr Johnson of a “desperate act” to try to engineer a hard-Brexit after “losing his nerve”.

Ms Hobhouse, who was born in Germany, told the Austrian publication Kurier: “We need to remember what happened with the fascists in Germany of the Thirties. What is happening now disturbs me deeply. If one can use any means, any tools, to achieve one’s goals it is very dangerous. This is not just about Brexit, it’s about achieving an objective through dictatorial means.

“It is undemocratic to shut off parliament. We know that democracy works and we need to resist threats to it by any means. If we don’t, then it will be the end of open society; it will be broken.”

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