The UK is on course for a general election in November after parliament was suspended last night, triggering “as big a crisis as we could possibly imagine”.
Opposition parties pledged to vote down the Queen’s Speech brought forward by Boris Johnson when MPs return after an unprecedented five-week interruption, in a move that will send the country to the polls in two months’ time.
Last night MPs were planning to stage protests in the Commons chamber as the controversial prorogation of parliament was officially implemented.
A source close to the so-called “Rebel Alliance” opposing a no-deal Brexit suggested MPs could refuse to leave the parliamentary estate, and the leaders of Labour and the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords boycotted the formal prorogation ceremony.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn described the government’s decision to go ahead with the suspension of parliament as “disgraceful”.
“Parliament should be holding the government to account. The Prime Minister appears to want to run away from questions,” he said.
On a visit to Dublin yesterday, the Prime Minister said he was “absolutely undaunted” by events at Westminster and urged MPs to honour the result of the 2016 EU referendum.
But Mr Johnson’s government kept up its unenviable 100 per cent record of Commons defeats on Brexit last night, as MPs voted to demand the publication of private communications between senior Downing Street figures about preparations for a no-deal scenario.
And in a decisive double-blow to Mr Johnson’s strategy for delivering an exit from the EU by 31 October, legislation forcing a delay to Brexit received royal assent, while MPs rejected a motion calling for a snap general election this month for a second time.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said that while the government would obey the law Mr Johnson would not be requesting another extension of the Article 50 EU withdrawal process.
“The Prime Minister is not going to seek an extension,” the spokesman said.
“If MPs want to resolve this there is an easy way – vote for an election today and let the public decide.”
Former attorney general Dominic Grieve’s demand for all written and electronic contact about the temporary suspension of parliament and documents relating to Operation Yellowhammer – the codename for the government’s no-deal readiness efforts – since 23 July to be released was approved by 311 votes to 302, a majority of nine.
Mr Grieve, now sitting as an independent MP after rebelling against the government, told the Commons that public officials had told him “they believed the handling of this matter smacked of scandal”.
Earlier, following the meeting of opposition leaders on Monday morning, SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford told reporters that the country was “in a constitutional crisis the likes of which we have never seen”.
He said opposition parties would look to collapse the government in mid-October, adding: “When we come back on 14 October, the first thing we’re going to face is a government coming forward with a Queen’s Speech.
“There is not a cat in hell’s chance of the government getting that Queen’s Speech through. That in itself is going to trigger a general election… we’re absolutely desperate for a general election as soon as possible.”
Votes are expected to be held on the government’s new legislative programme on 21 October, with a defeat on the Queen’s Speech likely to trigger a formal vote of no confidence, setting the UK on course for an election.
Reports yesterday suggested that private polling conducted by the Conservative Party put the government on course to win a snap election, but without a majority, resulting in further political turmoil.
Following a call from the Welsh nationalist leader at Westminster, Liz Saville-Roberts, for Mr Johnson to be impeached if he is found in contempt of parliament, Mr Blackford said that if the Prime Minister refuses to ask the EU for a Brexit extension “he’s going to find that he has the full force of law standing against him”.
Meanwhile, in a significant move in Brussels, the Irish EU Commissioner Phil Hogan was confirmed as the new holder of the trade portfolio on the bloc’s powerful executive body.
In a signal of hardening attitudes in Europe, Mr Hogan has previously warned that “if the UK fails to prevent a crash-out Brexit, they should be under no illusion regarding the foul atmosphere they will create with their EU partners”.