Opposition leaders will meet today to discuss how to thwart a no-deal Brexit, with the parties deadlocked over who should lead a caretaker administration after a vote of no-confidence in Mr Johnson’s government.
With Conservatives in Manchester for their party conference, opposition MPs are expected to use parliamentary tactics at Westminster to disrupt the gathering and put pressure on the Government over its refusal to push back the 31 October Brexit deadline.
Nicola Sturgeon indicated last week that she would be willing to put Jeremy Corbyn into No10 Downing Street as leader of a government of national unity, in order to request a Brexit delay from the EU and call an election.
But Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson has ruled out backing Mr Corbyn, and both she and the Labour leader are resisting SNP pressure for a swift confidence vote to oust the Prime Minister.
A senior SNP source said finding a neutral, “non-threatening” figure who could appeal to all opposition parties and Tory rebels would be a focus of talks.
Because they are already expected to stand down at the next general election, attention has turned to Ken Clarke, who was expelled from the parliamentary Conservative Party, and particularly Margaret Beckett, the veteran Labour MP.
But with Mr Johnson insisting he will not extend Article 50 despite legislation requiring a delay to prevent no-deal, Nationalists are prepared to be “robust” in today’s meeting and demand compromise from other parties.
Addressing Mr Corbyn’s role in a caretaker government, the SNP source said: “We understand the constitutional reality that, as Leader of the Opposition, he is first in line. But if other parties aren’t going to accept him, then it isn’t going to happen and Corbyn has to come round to accept that.
“We are desperate to get Boris Johnson out and ensure that there’s a mechanism to prevent a chaotic no-deal Brexit. The other opposition parties have got to face up to their responsibilities on this. We’re not precious, and they can’t be precious either.”
Labour’s shadow education secretary Angela Rayner dampened expectations that Labour could support a motion of no confidence this week.
“What we’ve said quite clearly is that we need to make sure that we get no deal averted,” she told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show.
“Jeremy Corbyn is really clear. He wants to make sure we don’t go off a cliff edge.”
Last night Arlene Foster, the leader of the government’s DUP allies, appeared to rule out the best chance of rescuing a Brexit deal with a compromise on the controversial Irish border backstop, telling a fringe event that she would not accept further regulatory divergence between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Asked if her party would accept an all-Ireland customs area to prevent new checks on trade along the border, Ms Foster said: “No. We’ve been very clear about all of that. Some people don’t understand that, when we set out our position, we mean it.
“The whole raison d’etre of the DUP is the Union.”
It came as Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg highlighted the importance of the DUP’s support to any new deal.
He said: “I think if the DUP is happy with the deal, there’ll be very few Conservatives, including those who are without the whip, who are then against a deal, and at that point there are a number of people in other parties who think, ‘Yes, we must now just finish this’.”
Mr Johnson insisted yesterday there was still a “good chance” of securing a Brexit deal but suggested EU leaders would reject any extension request from a “truculent” UK.
Appearing on the Marr show, the Prime Minister sidestepped the question of whether he had asked the Eurosceptic Hungarian leader Viktor Orban to veto an extension.
“I’m not going to get into my discussions with any other EU head of state about the negotiations because they are extremely interesting but they are also delicate.
“It is certainly true that other EU countries also don’t want this thing to keep dragging on.”
'Get Brexit done'
Mr Johnson dismissed speculation that he could stand down as Prime Minister rather than request a Brexit extension, allowing opposition parties to take responsibility for the delay.
“I’ve undertaken to lead my party and the country at a difficult time and I’m going to continue to do that. I believe it’s my responsibility to do that.”
Mr Johnson added that the “best thing for the country and for people’s overall psychological health would be to get Brexit done.”
Speaking in Manchester, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay warned that any Brexit delay “puts our United Kingdom at risk ... encouraging the Scottish Nationalists that if one referendum can be ignored, then so too can the 2014 referendum on the integrity of the UK itself.”
Michael Gove said he believes a no-deal Brexit would cause “some turbulence” but warned that not leaving the EU would damage democracy for longer.
The minister in charge of no-deal preparations also predicted that no other countries would follow Britain in leaving the EU, although he suggested that the bloc would look “very different” in the next 10 to 20 years.