A vote of no confidence in the government will not be held this week because it would only “play into Boris Johnson’s hands”, Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson said yesterday.
The SNP had been pushing for a confidence vote as early as this week to attempt to topple the government and stop a no-deal Brexit.
But other opposition parties were opposed to going early in case it triggered an early general election before Brussels has granted an extension to Brexit beyond October 31 – which is what the Prime Minister has been pushing for.
In cross-party talks held in Jeremy Corbyn’s Commons office yesterday which were designed to hammer out a strategy for stopping no-deal Brexit, Labour, the Lib Dems, SNP, Plaid Cymru, Change UK and the Greens agreed to hold back on a vote of no confidence until no-deal has been taken off the table – by enforcement of the Benn Act which requires the Prime Minister, or a government official in his place, to write a letter to the EU requesting an extension by October 19.
Under his “do or die” commitment to enact Brexit by the scheduled October 31 deadline, Mr Johnson has raised fears among opposition parties that he will not comply with the Benn Act.
He has repeatedly ruled out breaking the law but there are suspicions he may try to circumvent the legislation to force through a no-deal exit.
After the talks, Ms Swinson said: “What is clear is that this week it is important we don’t go for a precipitous vote of no confidence motion.
“It is understood that, if anything, that would just increase the risk of a no-deal Brexit and therefore play into Boris Johnson’s hands.”
Mr Corbyn had set out plans in August for a no-confidence vote, followed by a caretaker government under his leadership, but he has since agreed that a confidence vote without a Brexit extension would increase the chances of a no-deal Brexit.
The SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, insisted his party remained keen on an early no-confidence vote but wanted to do it when all opposition parties were united on the issue.
He told Sky News: “We have to do everything we can and that includes a motion of no confidence and there’s more work to be done on that over the coming days.
“We need to stop Boris Johnson crashing us out [in a no-deal Brexit], that is our priority, that is what unites all of us.
“I’ve made it clear that we want a motion of no confidence but we need to do that on a basis that other parties come with us as well.”
Green MP Caroline Lucas said: “I don’t think anyone is expecting a vote of no confidence this week but what we are expecting is to continue to discuss the best tactics and so forth in order to make sure that Boris Johnson doesn’t go ahead and defy the law and take us out with no deal.”
Mr Johnson said he remained “cautiously optimistic” about the prospect of a Brexit deal despite the limited time available ahead of the October 31 withdrawal date.
The Prime Minister said the UK side had made some “pretty big moves” towards a deal but it was up to Brussels to respond to find the right “landing zone”.
Speaking during a visit to a cash-and-carry business in Manchester, where the Conservative Party conference is taking place, he said: “I’m cautiously optimistic. We have made some pretty big moves. We are waiting to see whether our European friends will help us and whether we can find the right landing zone.
“But whatever happens, we’ll come out on October 31.”
Meanwhile Chancellor Sajid Javid said a no-deal Brexit “may well happen” on October 31 despite a law aimed at preventing Mr Johnson from taking the UK out of the EU without an agreement.
Asked if he knew how the Government would get around the Benn Act, he replied: “I think I do.”
Eurosceptic Tory MP Mark Francois, one of the hardline Brexiteers nicknamed the Spartans, said he would not be forced to back a deal and the “acid test” would be whether it delivered on the commitment to actually leave the EU.