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Fury at ‘despot’ Speaker as PM’s allies admit her fate could rest in his hands amid Brexit revolt

Theresa May’s fate could rest in the hands of Speaker John Bercow as Remainer rebels plot to tear up the Commons rule book in order to stop Brexit going ahead. 

Mr Bercow could effectively end the Prime Minister’s career if he allows a ‘coup’ bid to go ahead that could see the government stripped of control over business in Parliament.

The move – which No10 believes is being orchestrated by former ministers Oliver Letwin and Dominic Grieve – could happen within hours of Mrs May’s Brexit plan being defeated on Tuesday, as seems inevitable. 

Ministers have been warned success for the plotters could make it impossible for the government to cling on. 

Experts said the changes, which turn the constitution on its head by giving Parliament the executive’s powers, ‘should not be possible’, but suggested Mr Bercow might let them happen regardless. 

Senior government sources said the prospect of Mr Bercow playing such a pivotal role was ‘terrifying’, after he flouted procedure last week to help MPs opposed to Mrs May’s deal. 

Brexiteers were even more scathing, with Tory MP Andrew Bridgen saying of Mr Bercow: ‘He is showing himself for the despot he is.’

Commons Speaker John Bercow (pictured) could hold the fate of the PM in his hands

Legal experts have warned the Remainer plot could paralyse the PM (pictured at church in her Maidenhead constituency today)

Legal experts have warned the Remainer plot could paralyse the PM (pictured at church in her Maidenhead constituency today)

The high-stakes battle emerged as Mrs May launched another desperate effort to salvage the package she has thrashed out with Brussels. 

Mrs May said failing to deliver on the verdict of the referendum would be ‘unforgivable’ and a ‘catastrophe’ for democracy. 

At the start of an historic week in Parliament that could make or break Brexit:

  • Former PM Sir John Major has joined calls for Article 50 to be revoked to give the UK more time, reiterating his support for a second referendum. 
  • Mrs May is still thought to be on track for a huge defeat on her Brexit deal, with speculation it could be the biggest ever suffered by a government. 
  • Cabinet ministers have warned of a ‘Brexit bunfight’ between supporters of alternative policies if Mrs May’s package is killed off.
  • Hopes are fading of significant concessions from the EU before the crunch Parliamentary clash. 
  • Jeremy Corbyn hinted Labour is preparing to force a no-confidence vote this week if the premier loses the Commons showdown. 
  • Fourteen military planners are said to have have been deployed to Whitehall departments to help with preparations for border chaos if the UK crashes out. 

Hardline Remainers and Brexiteers have been mobilising in a bid to thwart her plans. 

Downing Street said it was ‘extremely concerned’ about a backbench plot to change Commons rules to enable backbench motions to take precedence over Government business, warning it was a ‘real threat’ to its ability to function. 

One senior source branded the plan a ‘very British coup’, according to the Sunday Times.  

The government currently has power to control business in the chamber – which is especially crucial when there is no overall majority.

The executive proposes legislation and motions, which are then scrutinised by MPs. 

But ripping up the system to give backbenchers priority over Parliamentary time could fundamentally change the balance.

How could the ‘coup’ plot work? 

The rules of the House of Commons have been developed over centuries.

They are largely set down in Erskine May – known as the procedural ‘Bible’ – and Standing Orders. 

The government currently has power to control business in the chamber – which is especially crucial when there is no overall majority.

The executive proposes legislation and motions, which are then scrutinised by MPs. 

But ripping up the system to give backbenchers priority over Parliamentary time could fundamentally change the balance.

MPs would be able to prevent ministers bringing forward legislation, and stage votes on what should happen next – potentially even binding ones.

Speaker John Bercow will play a key role in pushing through any changes, which would effectively turn the constitutional settlement on its head. 

No10 sources admit that the tactic could effectively remove their ability to govern. 

MPs would be able to prevent ministers bringing forward legislation, and stage votes on what should happen next – potentially even binding ones.

The tactic apparently emerged when one of the conspirators was overheard in the MPs’ cloakroom by Mr Smith.

He reportedly sought advice from legal experts, who said: ‘Such an attempt represents a clear and present danger to all government business.

‘Without control of the order paper, the government has no control over the House of Commons and the parliamentary business and legislation necessary to progress government policies. The government would lose its ability to govern.’ 

The manoeuvring was only uncovered by Chief Whip Julian Smith when he overheard conspirators in the MPs’ cloakroom. 

There are claims Speaker John Bercow is ready to help the backbench uprising, after he secretly met Mr Grieve last week.  

The ex-head of legislation at No10, Nikki da Costa, said she had ‘never seen something so designed to undermine government stability’. 

She said the amendments required to make the overhaul happen would ‘normally not be in scope’ and ‘shouldn’t be possible’. 

‘But with this Speaker… if passed it would be catastrophic,’ she added. 

‘I don’t say that lightly. I’ve never seen something so designed to undermine government stability.’ 

Asked about the claims, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said: ‘What recent events have shown, with events over the last week with what happened on the legal advice where the Government was forced to act in a way it didn’t want to, is the uncertainty in terms of what will happen in the House has increased. 

Mr Bercow allowed an amendment tabled by Mr Grieve last week (pictured) that flew in the face of usual Commons procedure, and led to the PM's second major setback in 24 hours

Mr Bercow allowed an amendment tabled by Mr Grieve last week (pictured) that flew in the face of usual Commons procedure, and led to the PM’s second major setback in 24 hours

No10 also believes Sir Oliver Letwin (pictured) is behind the plot to overhaul Commons rules

No10 also believes Sir Oliver Letwin (pictured) is behind the plot to overhaul Commons rules

‘So those on the Brexiteer side seeking ideological purity with a deal are risking Brexit, because there is a growing risk that events could unfold in ways that (mean) they are leaving the door ajar to ways that increase the risk to Brexit.’ 

Pressed repeatedly on what the government’s Plan B was, Mr Barclay said he thought MPs would end up passing a package ‘on the lines’ of that proposed by Mrs May. 

Mr Grieve is said to have refused to deny he is involved in the scheme. The PM’s allies have also pointed the finger at ex-minister Sir Oliver Letwin, while other Tory MPs including Nick Boles, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston have pledged to support any measures necessary to avoid a no-deal Brexit. 

Ms Soubry today tweeted accusing Downing Street of ‘nasty smear tactics’ against Mr Grieve and other Remainers, designed to ‘scare’ politicians into backing the PM’s agreement. 

So what happens next? 

No 10 fear that Theresa May’s premiership could implode on Tuesday night if the scale of her defeat is insurmountable, with aides and allies braced for two doomsday scenarios:

Fear one: If Theresa May’s bill is heavily defeated, Labour is likely to call a confidence vote in the Government on Wednesday. If the Government loses heavily, Mrs May will resign; if it wins, she will likely head to Brussels immediately for crisis talks.

Fear two: Cabinet Remainers could join with Labour to hamstring the Prime Minister by hijacking her Immigration Bill to demand the UK stays in a Customs Union with the EU forever.

It would likely spark a devastating backlash from Brexiteers that could yet topple the PM’s tenuous grip on power.

Labour’s Chris Leslie, another of those coordinating efforts to avoid no-deal Brexit, said: ‘MPs saying ‘no’ to Executive isn’t a ‘coup’. It’s parliamentary democracy in action. 

‘It’s Ministers who consistently try to overrule Parliament: stacking committees; forcing through Henry VIII powers; withholding papers; breaking pairing; trying to trigger Brexit with no vote.’ 

The Mail on Sunday has revealed that Mr Grieve secretly met Mr Bercow last week just hours before the Speaker threw out centuries of tradition to scupper Mrs May’s Brexit plans.

The pair spoke in Mr Bercow’s grace-and-favour Commons apartment the day before the Speaker tore up the rule book to allow the former Attorney General to table an amendment forcing the PM to table a ‘Plan B’ within three days of her expected defeat.  

Ministers believe the Speaker will do ‘almost anything’ to block the government, with senior sources telling MailOnline it is ‘terrifying’ that Mr Bercow holds the key to their fate. 

Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis said Britain was facing ‘Brexit paralysis’ if her plan was rejected by MPs. 

Tory ex-PM Sir John Major today called for Article 50 to be revoked to give the UK more time, saying it was the ‘only sensible course’. 

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn today defended the Speaker as he hinted that he will trigger a no-confidence vote this week

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn today defended the Speaker as he hinted that he will trigger a no-confidence vote this week

Meanwhile, Labour is gearing up to stage a no-confidence vote immediately after the Brexit deal decision – potentially as early as Wednesday. 

Jeremy Corbyn has so far resisted pressure to force a vote, with allies insisting there is no point as the government would win.

But there are mounting signs that he is ready to take advantage of Mrs May’s moment of maximum weakness. 

Corbyn hints at bid to oust May within days 

Labour could call a confidence vote this week if Theresa May’s Brexit deal is defeated this week, Jeremy Corbyn hinted today.

Mr Corbyn made clear the party is on high alert to try to force the PM out and a general election.

He suggested the Brexit date will have to be delayed if he succeeds, but repeatedly refused to be drawn on whether Labour would campaign on a manifesto to take the UK out of the EU. 

He also declined to say if he would back a second referendum, as is being demanded by dozens of his own MPs.

Asked in an interview on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show whether a no-confidence vote would happen immediately if, as expected, Mrs May’s package is rejected by the Commons on Tuesday, Mr Corbyn replied: ‘It is going to be soon, don’t worry about that.’   

Asked in an interview on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show whether a no-confidence vote would happen immediately if, as expected, Mrs May’s package is rejected by the Commons on Tuesday, Mr Corbyn replied: ‘It is going to be soon, don’t worry about that.’ 

Mr Corbyn made clear the party is on high alert to try to force the PM out and a general election.

He suggested the Brexit date will have to be delayed if he succeeds, but repeatedly refused to be drawn on whether Labour would campaign on a manifesto to take the UK out of the EU. 

He also declined to say if he would back a second referendum, as is being demanded by dozens of his own MPs. 

In the interview today, Mr Corbyn said: ‘The crucial thing is Tuesday. And then, if this Government can’t control Parliament, it’s time to have a general election.’ 

Ducking and diving as he was pressed on whether Labour would campaign on a manifesto to deliver Brexit, Mr Corbyn said ‘we’re campaigning for a country that is brought together by investment’.

He added later: ‘We’re campaigning for a customs union.’ 

The Labour leader said his party will ‘decide our manifesto content as soon as we know there’s an election coming’. 

Pressed about the option of a second referendum, Mr Corbyn stressed his preference for a general election.

He added: ‘My own view is that I’d rather get a negotiated deal now, if we can, to stop the danger of a no-deal exit from the EU on March 29 – which would be catastrophic for industry, catastrophic for trade and the long-term effects of that would be huge.’ 

Writing in the Sunday Express, Mrs May pleaded with parliamentarians to ‘do what is right for our country’ and back her controversial exit plan.

Military planners are drafted into Whitehall departments 

Military planners have been drafted into Whitehall department in a bid to prevent border ‘chaos’ if there is a no-deal Brexit, it was revealed today. 

Some 14 military planners have been deployed to the Department for Transport, Home Office and Foreign Office as well as the Cabinet Office, according to Freedom of Information responses to the Observer. 

Some departments apparently asked for ‘the unique skills and operational planning experience the military can offer’.

Their duties are said to include ‘command and control’ advice.

She said the UK risks crashing out of the EU without a deal or, if MPs are ‘unwilling’ to face the uncertainty of no deal, then the UK may not leave at all.

In what she described as the ‘biggest and most important decision that any MP of our generation will be asked to make’, the Prime Minister said it was time for politicians to ‘deliver’ for the people.

‘You, the British people, voted to leave. And then, in the 2017 General Election, 80 per cent of you voted for MPs who stood on manifestos to respect that referendum result,’ she wrote. 

‘You have delivered your instructions. Now it is our turn to deliver for you.’

Rebel Tories have been warned that forcing a defeat could lead to one of two ‘nightmare scenarios’. 

Pro-Remain Tory MPs join forces with Labour to compel the UK to stay in a customs union with the EU; or Mr Corbyn moves to bring down Mrs May with an immediate vote of no confidence.

Either way, it could lead to a crushing General Election defeat within weeks unless they fall into line, whips say.

Tory chairman Brandon Lewis told The Mail on Sunday that a ‘Brexit bunfight’ would ‘open up between those who want a second referendum, an extension of Article 50 or a Norway-plus deal’. 

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay, pictured on the BBC's Andrew Marr show today, warned Tories against insisting on 'ideological purity'

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay, pictured on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show today, warned Tories against insisting on ‘ideological purity’

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, pushed about the Government’s Brexit Plan B, told Sky News’ Ridge on Sunday: ‘I’m not going to get into ‘will we do this, will we do that, will we do the other?’. 

‘The important thing is to say to fellow MPs those concerns are out there and the big concerns are: Are we going to leave? Are we going to deliver Brexit? Are we going to somehow try and reverse Brexit? Is Parliament going to force us to reverse Brexit? 

‘What we have is a sensible compromise deal. It’s not giving everybody everything what they want, but it was never going to – this was a 52-48 result.’ 

Labour added to the pressure last night by announcing that Mr Corbyn would unveil a new party political broadcast on Wednesday in which he would ‘spell out how Labour plans to unite and rebuild the country’ and ‘campaign on a growing view that austerity and inequality has created a country of haves and have-nots’.

The party also announced that it was hiring pollsters for the next Election ‘to test policies and the impact of campaigning in key marginals’ and had selected 100 candidates for the closest-fought seats.

Labour sources claimed that the most recent polling showed that the country has ‘moved economically to the Left’.

One said: ‘While the Government has been locked in bitter infighting and chaos over their botched Brexit negotiations, the needs of the country have been neglected. Tory austerity has left the majority of people worse off, creating a cost of living crisis and levels of poverty not seen since the 1930s.

‘Our Election campaign strategy will set out a positive vision of how we will make the country better, one of fairness and good public services, where we support each other.’

EU’s last-ditch mission to save deal 

Brussels’ most senior Eurocrats are set to publish two letters tomorrow in a last-ditch effort to help Theresa May get her Brexit deal through the Commons.

The Mail on Sunday understands EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and EU Council president Donald Tusk will each send a separate letter designed to reassure MPs over the controversial ‘backstop’ measure that could see the UK locked to EU rules indefinitely.

But the correspondence is likely to fall far short of the demands of Tory Brexit rebels who want the Prime Minister to reopen talks with the EU to rip out the fallback from the terms of her withdrawal agreement.

EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker (pictured centre) and EU Council president Donald Tusk will each send a separate letter designed to reassure MPs over the controversial ‘backstop’

EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker (pictured centre) and EU Council president Donald Tusk will each send a separate letter designed to reassure MPs over the controversial ‘backstop’

Brussels sources say that Mr Juncker’s letter will vow to ‘expedite’ trade talks between the EU and the UK to try to avoid the ‘backstop’ ever being triggered.

He will set out a process for a new trade deal to be done as quickly as possible but is unlikely to include a date for talks to start.

Meanwhile, Mr Tusk will reiterate the 27 other EU countries have a ‘firm determination’ to have a new relationship with Britain in place by the end of 2020 to avoid the measure kicking in.

He will add that if the deal is not ready by that point, all European states will work to have it signed by 2021 at the latest, meaning the UK would only have to shadow EU trade and customs rules for an additional year.

Last night Downing Street insiders said they expected the letters to be published on Monday evening for maximum impact ahead of Tuesday’s Commons showdown.

Even with a trickle of Tory MPs climbing down from their opposition to Mrs May’s deal, she is on course for an defeat of historic proportions. After three full days of debate, Mrs May’s allies are braced for a thumping defeat, with efforts focused on keeping the tally to ‘under three figures’.

Mrs May will likely address MPs and the public late on Tuesday evening or early on Wednesday, with Ministers expecting her to announce yet another trip to Brussels to try to squeeze more concessions from the EU.

Officials in Brussels, Dublin and London are all said to be ‘acutely aware’ that the backstop is the last major sticking point to a deal being done, with the Irish government expected to come under increased pressure to soften their objections to the measure being watered down.

But last night Brussels sources said in response to the likely defeat, attention would instead begin by focusing on a rewriting of the non-legally binding political declaration that sets out EU and UK hopes for future trade arrangements rather than reopening the withdrawal agreement treaty on the terms of divorce.

 

 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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