London markets had a mixed start to a week in which the battle between Boris Johnson’s Government and Parliament over Brexit is expected to reach a new peak of intensity.
Sterling lost ground against the euro but strengthened against the dollar and the yen. While the blue-chip FTSE 100 index opened lower, the FTSE 250, which more closely reflects domestic British business, rose in early trading.
Later today, the Government is expected to be defeated for a second time in its call for a General Election to resolve the Brexit impasse in Parliament, a move that requires a two-thirds majority to pass.
Also today, a bill is expected to pass into law requiring the Prime Minister to seek an extension from Brussels beyond the current October 31st deadline, if a deal has not been agreed with the EU by October 19th. Mr Johnson and his colleagues have said the law would weaken their negotiating position and have pledged to find ways around it.
These could include persuading one of the other 27 EU member states to veto an extension; France has already suggested it would vote against such a measure. Parliament will be suspended later this week, but not before the bill has passed into law.
Boris Johnson in Dublin
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson was in Dublin this morning meeting his Irish opposite number Leo Varadkar for discussions expected to focus on the vexed issue of the Northern Irish border. If Brexit goes ahead, this would be a crossing point between the EU and a non-EU member, and the challenge would be to manage this fact while not reverting to any kind of hard border between the two jurisdictions.
The FTSE 100 dropped 0.03% in early trading to 7,279.84, while the FTSE 250 index rose 0.05% to 19,715.60. Across Europe, the picture was mixed, with stocks lower in Amsterdam and Paris and higher in Frankfurt and Madrid.
Criminal proceedings a possibility
Legislation issued by parliament requiring Mr Johnson to seek an extension is unprecedented in modern times. Although the UK does not have a formal separation of powers between the executive and the legislature, such as the United States, it is highly unusual to have Parliament as a whole seeking to direct the Government in this way.
In the fevered atmosphere in Westminster, there has been talk of the House of Commons setting up a rival government headed by a figure such as the former Chancellor Kenneth Clarke, or of trying to have Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Opposition, installed as Prime Minister.
It is unclear what would happen were Mr Johnson to ignore the extension law. It has been suggested he may be prosecuted in an ordinary court and could face time in prison.
An alternative suggestion is that he be impeached and then tried by both Houses of Parliament, a procedure unused since 1806.