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Boris Johnson moves to build bridges over Brexit divisions

Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the House of Commons yesterday
Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the House of Commons yesterday

By Gavin Cordon

Boris Johnson has held out an olive branch to his defeated political opponents with an offer to find common ground to heal the divisions of Brexit.

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On the first day of sitting of the new Parliament, the Prime Minister said he wanted to end the wrangling over Britain's departure from the EU.

However, his conciliatory message was overshadowed by a furious row over plans by ministers to legislate to prevent any extension to the Brexit transition period beyond the end of 2020.

Opposition parties said his "reckless" approach opened up the renewed risk of a no-deal Brexit in just 12 months.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Johnson said: "After three-and-a-half years of wrangling and division, we in this government will do whatever we can to reach out across the House to find common ground, to heal the divisions of our country and to find a new and generous spirit in which we conduct all our political dealings."

Earlier, however, he struck a more bullish note, telling the first Cabinet meeting since his election triumph they needed to work "flat out" to deliver on their campaign promises, including Brexit.

He pledged to keep up the "frenetic" pace of his first five months in office, telling ministers: "You ain't seen nothing yet, folks."

The Government is expected to introduce the Withdrawal Agreement Bill in the Commons tomorrow, following the State Opening of Parliament and the Queen's Speech.

MPs will then vote on the principle of the Bill - ratifying Mr Johnson's Brexit deal with Brussels in October - at a second reading on Friday before the House rises for Christmas.

Ministers want the legislation to clear all its stages in the Commons and the Lords in January to enable Britain to leave with a deal in place at the end of the month as planned.

However, the Bill has been reworked to "legally prohibit" any extension of the transition period which then follows beyond the end of 2020.

The option of an extension was originally included to allow talks to continue on a new free trade agreement if, as many expect, they have not been concluded by the end of the year.

Opposition parties said that by taking that away, Mr Johnson was effectively reopening the prospect of an economically damaging no-deal break.

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said: "This is typical of the reckless and irresponsible behaviour we have come to expect from Boris Johnson's Government."

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