Legislation forcing the Prime Minister to delay Brexit and prevent the UK crashing out of the EU is set to be put before the House of Commons next week, after opposition parties reached a compromise on parliamentary tactics.
The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford described the cross-party effort as “the fight of our lives” and claimed a “significant number” of Conservative MPs – well into double figures – were prepared to back a bill to stop a chaotic Brexit.
But with Mr Johnson refusing to rule out prorogation to clear the way for a no-deal scenario, MPs behind a court case being heard in Edinburgh next week said they would get a judge “out of their bed in the middle of the night” to stop the Prime Minister asking the Queen to suspend Parliament.
Joanna Cherry, the SNP home affairs spokeswoman and one of over 70 MPs backing the legal action at the Court of Session, said the petitioners were seeking an interim interdict to block prorogation
“I would imagine this case will go all the way to the Supreme Court,” she added.
An hour of talks in Jeremy Corbyn’s Westminster office yielded agreement on legislation to seize control of the parliamentary agenda as a means to stop a no-deal, making that the priority ahead of a vote of no-confidence that would install the Labour leader as caretaker prime minister.
After the Labour leadership had pushed for a confidence vote, other parties welcomed a compromise that is an admission there is insufficient support to install Mr Corbyn as a caretaker prime minister, especially among pro-EU Tories.
Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, who had warned against a caretaker government led by Mr Corbyn, said she was “pleased the meeting focused on a legislative route”.
Mr Blackford said a confidence vote presented a “real risk that we fall into a trap… because it may well be that we have an election but we haven’t changed the legislation, so we fall out of the EU while Parliament is not sitting.”
Following the meeting, Mr Corbyn said: “We are putting first the legislative proposal next week and that’s what the agreement was reached this morning to do, that’s what we are doing.
“The motion of no confidence will be put, by me, at an appropriate time but obviously not the first item next Tuesday, because I believe it’s important that we get on with a legislative process which prevents the Prime Minister acting in defiance of the will of Parliament.”
The Labour leader has also written to 116 backbench Tory and independent MPs who have previously voted against a no-deal Brexit, urging them to work with him.
Recipients include ex-prime minister Theresa May and her chancellor Philip Hammond, along with other former Cabinet ministers who oppose a no-deal outcome.
Further talks between opposition parties are to be held over the coming days to discuss the details of parliamentary tactics.
Opponents of no-deal are expected to seek an emergency debate when MPs return on 3 September, with Mr Blackford warning parliamentarians had to “seize the moment with a sense of urgency”.
“In the first day back at Parliament, we have to act,” he said. “These people are ideologues. They are absolutely determined to drive us out of the European Union on a no-deal basis at the end of October, and if we’re not united, then we won’t beat them. But I firmly believe that we will win this battle.”
The SNP leader at Westminster suggested opposition MPs could refuse to vote for the traditional conference recess period in September to allow more time for legislation to block a no-deal.
Mr Blackford said a move to prorogue Parliament to cut off opposition efforts was a real risk, and warned MPs had to be prepared if necessary to take action to strike that out as an option. Hinting at a fresh legal action, he said there were “a number of ways that could be challenged”.
During yesterday’s talks, opposition leaders were briefed on legal advice prepared by Labour shadow Attorney General Shami Chakrabarti which said prorogation would be “the gravest abuse of power and attack upon UK constitutional principle in living memory”.
A cross-party group of MPs, led by Jolyon Maugham QC’s Good Law Project, are seeking a ruling from the Court of Session that “seeking to use the power to prorogue Parliament to avoid further parliamentary participation in the withdrawal of the UK from the EU is both unlawful and unconstitutional”.
The first substantive hearing in the case is on 6 September – three days before the government is considering suspending Parliament, according to reporting of leaked legal advice. An updated petition was submitted ahead of a deadline yesterday, broadening the case and asking the court to prevent the Prime Minister going to the Queen with a request for prorogation until all appeals are exhausted.
“If any court within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom – and, of course, Scotland is within the jurisdiction of the UK – rules it’s unlawful for the PM to proceed in that way, then he would be thumbing his nose at the rule of law if he proceeded in that way,” Ms Cherry said.
She added: “Judges can be got out of their bed in the middle of the night. That is one potential way of proceeding here if so advised.”
Yesterday, around 160 MPs signed a declaration pledging to stop a no-deal Brexit “using whatever mechanism possible”.
The text of the “Church House Declaration” – signed symbolically at the venue that hosted Parliament during the Second World War – reads: “Shutting down Parliament would be an undemocratic outrage at such a crucial moment for our country, and a historic constitutional crisis.Any attempt to prevent Parliament sitting, to force through a no-deal Brexit, will be met by strong and widespread democratic resistance.”
At the signing ceremony, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said any attempt to suspend Parliament over Brexit would be “nothing less than a coup” and Anna Soubry, a former Conservative MP, hit out at parliamentary colleagues who have backed the government despite opposing Brexit. “You all know who the people of courage are and those who have failed to exercise it,” she said. “They will stop you in the corridors and say: ‘of course this is absolute madness’ but they will not go and do the right thing, which is to be true to their principles.”
The Conservative Party has accused Mr Corbyn of attempting to “stop Brexit happening altogether” after co-ordinating attempts to prevent a no-deal exit.
And a Downing Street official was quoted as saying: “It’s utterly perverse that Corbyn and his allies are actively seeking to sabotage the UK’s position. This coalition of anti-democrats should be honest with the British public, they are against us leaving the EU no matter what.”
Mr Johnson tweeted: “The referendum result must be respected. We will leave the EU on 31st October.”