Brexit: MPs vote to block suspension of parliament to force through no-deal

Hilary Benn sponsored the amendment.
Hilary Benn sponsored the amendment.
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The next prime minister has had their hands tied to prevent them suspending parliament to force through a no-deal, after a split in the Conservative Party delivered a final Brexit defeat in the Commons for Theresa May.

In a rebuke to Boris Johnson, who is expected to enter 10 Downing Street next week and has failed to rule out prorogation, 17 Conservative MPs broke the party whip to support a motion effectively blocking any bid to shut parliament.

Margot James resigned as minister for digital after voting against the government, but five Cabinet ministers who abstained have escaped punishment, with the Prime Minister saying it would fall to her successor to decide whether to offer them jobs.

Chancellor Philip Hammond, Justice Secretary David Gauke, Business Secretary Greg Clark and International Development Secretary Rory Stewart did not take part in the vote despite not being paired.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “The Prime Minister is obviously disappointed that a number of ministers failed to vote in this afternoon’s division and issued a warning to the MPs over whether their roles will still be available under her successor.

“No doubt her successor will take this into account when forming their government.”

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In a direct challenge to the next prime minister that sets the Chancellor up as a leading anti-Brexit rebel, Mr Hammond tweeted: “The Conservative Party has always, at its core, had a fundamental belief in the importance of strong institutions – and in a representative democracy there can be no more vital institution than its Parliament.

“It should not be controversial to believe that Parliament be allowed to sit, and have a say, during a key period in our country’s history.”

The rebellion sparked a furious reaction among Mr Johnson’s supporters, with the Scottish Tory Colin Clark sending a message to all his fellow MPs calling for sackings.

“Many people had to rearrange holidays with family to be in today to see ministers and PPSs [parliamentary private secretaries] abstain,” he sent to the Tory MPs’ group on the Whatsapp messaging app. “They should all be fired. This is a team game!”

The Scottish Secretary David Mundell voted with the government while the Scottish Tory MP Paul Masterton was among the rebels who voted for the amendment.

In an embarrassing gaffe, Tory leadership contender Jeremy Hunt missed the vote, saying he thought he was given permission not to attend.

He tweeted: “I missed votes today because I thought I was slipped and it turns out I was not. Apologies to my colleagues & Whip. My position is that parliament should NOT restrict the hands of an incoming govt in this way & I remain opposed to how parl voted.”

The change to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill will require progress reports on restoring devolved government in Northern Ireland to be debated regularly in Parliament, effectively preventing it being prorogued.

It builds on an amendment passed in the Commons last week, when MPs backed a proposal from the pro-European Tory Dominic Grieve calling for fortnightly reports from the government on the efforts to restore the powersharing executive.

The new amendment ensure these have to be debated in the weeks before the Brexit deadline on 31 October.

The bill could theoretically make it illegal for the government to prorogue Parliament in the autumn if the powersharing executive in Northern Ireland has not been restored.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the vote was an “important victory” that would “prevent the Tories from suspending parliament to force through a disastrous no-deal”.

Mr Corbyn pledged that “Labour will do everything we can to prevent the next Prime Minister dragging us towards a no-deal Brexit”.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford also hailed the vote, saying MPs had delivered a “strong majority to block the next Tory prime minister from shutting down Parliament and forcing through a devastating no-deal Brexit.

“Boris Johnson must stop acting like a tin-pot dictator and ditch his plans to drag Scotland and the UK off the Brexit cliff-edge,” Mr Blackford said.

Liberal Democrat Scotland spokesman Jamie Stone MP said the vote was a “milestone victory in blocking Boris Johnson from trampling on our democracy”.

“No prime minister should be able to prorogue Parliament to force something through against Parliament’s will and these votes are an important part in stopping Boris Johnson doing this,” Mr Stone said.

The European Commission’s top official, Martin Selmayr, told a BBC Panorama programme last night that the UK was unprepared to leave without a deal.

“We have followed the British debate and the British preparations very, very closely and we have seen what has been prepared on our side of the border for a hard Brexit - we don’t see the same level of preparation on the other side of the border,” Mr Selmayr said.

“You would have to establish a lot of authorities in the United Kingdom that you don’t have at this moment in time so I think the European Union have been very well-prepared for that – we could live with a hard Brexit.

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“We don’t think the same level of preparation is there on the UK side.”

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier claimed Mrs May and her ministers “never” threatened no-deal during Brexit talks. Mr Barnier insisted the Withdrawal Agreement was the only way to leave in an “orderly manner”, said the UK would have to “face the consequences” if it crashed out.

Meanwhile, the incoming European Commission president has said a no-deal Brexit would have “massively negative consequences” for both the UK and the EU.

Ursula von der Leyen will replace Jean-Claude Juncker as Brussels’ top official on 1 November, the day after Brexit is due to take place, after her appointment was narrowly approved by MEPs on Tuesday.

She said: “We don’t want a hard Brexit, it’s a bad outcome for both sides.”

The German, who will become the first woman to be European Commission president, insisted that the Withdrawal Agreement thrashed out by Brussels with Theresa May remained a good deal.

In an interview conducted in Berlin with the Guardian and four other European newspapers, Ms von der Leyen insisted the deal was not dead – despite its rejection by MPs and the two contenders in the Tory leadership race insisting that it needs wholesale changes.

“No, it is a good agreement, which was negotiated properly in accordance with the red lines drawn by the British government,” she said.

In a strongly-worded report published today, MPs have also warned a no-deal Brexit could cause “severe disruption” to the economy. putting jobs and livelihoods at risk.

The Commons Exiting the European Union Committee heard evidence from the pharmaceutical industry that a no-deal Brexit would be a “leap into the unknown”, potentially putting patient safety at risk and increasing costs for the NHS.