Opponents of a no-deal Brexit look set to try to wrest control of the parliamentary agenda when the Commons returns from recess this week in a bid to push through legislation delaying Brexit beyond October 31.
However today Boris Johnson, accompanied by Michael Gove and Amber Rudd, is expected to meet 21 Tory MPs, led by Philip Hammond and David Gauke, to try and dissuade them from supporting any action which would delay leaving the European Union.
Tory party sources have said it’s unlikely the former chancellor and other rebels would be talked round, putting their opposition to no-deal ahead of party loyalty, as they are infuriated by Mr Johnson’s plan to prorogue Parliament.
Mr Gauke, the former justice secretary yesterday said he would attend the meeting because he wanted to hear what the Prime Minister’s plan was to “deliver a deal”.
He added: “When are we putting forward proposals to deal with this backstop issue? And I want to hear how he plans to deliver the legislation if we get a deal by October 31, because at the moment, frankly, I can’t see how he’s got time to do that.”
Referring to reports that Tories who oppose a no-deal option could lose the party whip, Mr Gauke said: “Sometimes there is a point where... you have to judge between your own personal interests and the national interest. And the national interest has to come first. But, I hope it doesn’t come to that, and I hope cooler and calmer heads will look at this and think that trying to split the Conservative Party in this way is not a sensible way forward for the Conservative Party, or indeed for the country.”
But in a move that seemed to throw more fuel on the fire, Mr Johnson refused to say if he would abide by any law which barred a no-deal exit from Europe.
Asked if he would ignore any such legislation, he ducked the question, telling a Sunday newspaper: “I simply say to my friends in Parliament, I do not detect an appreciable reduction in people’s anxiety about this issue as a result of the extensions that have been.
“What we need to do is get a deal done, or if we can’t get a deal done, then get out of the EU on October 31 come what may. And that’s what we’re going to do.”
Mr Johnson’s ambivalence was later underlined by Mr Gove, the minister in charge of no-deal planning, who also refused to say whether the government would abide by the legislation. Speaking on the BBC Andrew Marr show, he said: “Let’s see what the legislation says. You’re asking me about a pig in a poke,” he said. “And I will wait to see what legislation the opposition may try to bring forward.”
Mr Gove’s comments were condemned by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who said: “We now have a UK government that can’t/won’t say a simple ‘yes’ to the question ‘will you abide by the law?’ Not so much prorogue as just plain rogue.
“These are dangerous times for democracy. We mustn’t allow this behaviour to be normalised.”
Sir Keir Starmer said Mr Johnson needed to make an urgent statement. Labour’s shadow Brexit Secretary added: “For ministers not to confirm that this government will accept and comply with legislation lawfully passed is breathtaking.
“The Prime Minister must make a statement on this straight away. No government is above the law.”
It is expected that an emergency debate will be held tomorrow when Parliament returns from recess, which would end in a vote to allow MPs to take control of the business of the Commons for the rest of the week. Opposition MPs say they are working against the clock after the Prime Minister won the Queen’s approval to prorogue Parliament for five weeks. That decision will also be challenged in the Scottish courts tomorrow.
If MPs are successful on Tuesday, there could be debate on a bill to delay Brexit until May next year on Wednesday.
Tory sources suggest that the Prime Minister would have to accept the will of Parliament, or his only resort would be to call a general election to seek a mandate for his “do or die” approach to Brexit.
“If Parliament legislates to delay Brexit, the Prime Minister will call an election, in just a few days” said one source. “And I think that is the most likely outcome”.
SNP Westminster Leader Ian Blackford today warned that the week ahead will be “absolutely crucial” in working to save Scotland from a catastrophic no-deal Brexit. He called on politicians from all sides to “work together to oppose Boris Johnson’s damaging no-deal plans”, putting party differences aside.
He said: “As Parliament returns from recess, we enter an absolutely crucial week in the fight to save Scotland from a catastrophic no-deal Brexit.
Former Tory minister, MP Guto Bebb said the idea that the government would not abide by a law passed in the Commons were “a disgrace to our democracy”.