Full details of a plot by rebel MPs to seize control of Brexit can be revealed today.
If Theresa May loses tomorrow’s crunch vote, authority for drawing up a new negotiating blueprint could pass to a panel of senior backbenchers, the Mail understands. The liaison committee, which is dominated by Remainers by a margin of 27 to nine, would be charged with coming up with a proposal supported by MPs.
The Prime Minister would then be required to go to Brussels to negotiate for it – in all likelihood creating a much softer Brexit.
The dramatic move would mean tearing up the Commons rule book – giving backbench MPs the power to propose legislation instead of the Government.
A Cabinet minister described it as a ‘copper-bottomed, bullet-proof plan to sink Brexit which relies on the fact the Government has no majority and the Speaker will bend the rules’. A draft Bill, which the Mail understands has been drawn up by former ministers Nick Boles, Sir Oliver Letwin and Nicky Morgan, will be published today. All three backed Remain, but are expected to vote for Mrs May’s plan tomorrow.
Britain’s Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom said it was wrong to undermine ‘centuries of convention and the rulebook’
A draft Bill, which sources say has been drawn up by former ministers Nick Boles (left) and Sir Oliver Letwin (right), is to be published this evening
A source close to the move said the changes to the standing orders of the House of Commons would be temporary and would be reversed after Brexit.
The source said: ‘We all want Brexit to happen on March 29, that is our first preference.’
A leading figure behind the move added: ‘This is not a wholesale reordering of the British constitution. It would be a one-off surgical strike and afterwards things would go back to normal.’
Under the plan, the Prime Minister would have 21 days to come up with an alternative Brexit deal.
If none is found, responsibility for developing one would pass to the liaison committee which is made up of the chairmen of the 26 Commons select committees. It is chaired by Dr Sarah Wollaston, who is a leading campaigner for a second referendum.
The committee’s proposal would have to be approved by MPs with ministers ordered to reopen talks with Brussels.
If time is short, Article 50 could be extended, meaning the UK would stay in the EU. If Brussels refused this, Article 50 would be revoked, in effect cancelling Brexit. The liaison committee would be expected to propose a version of Brexit involving membership of – or a much closer relationship with – the single market and customs union.
Mr Boles has long advocated the ‘Norway’ model which would keep the UK in the single market.
If Theresa May loses tomorrow’s ‘meaningful’ vote, plans for leaving the EU would be passed to a panel of senior backbenchers
Cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom said the move by pro-EU MPs was ‘incredibly dangerous’ and would change the way Parliament worked.
The plotters want backbench motions to take precedence over Government business if Mrs May’s deal is defeated tomorrow. This would strip ministers of control and put Brexit at risk.
Mrs Leadsom said this threatened ‘the relationship between the people and those who govern them’.
Her stark warning comes at the start of what could be the most momentous week in British politics since the Second World War. In other developments:
- Four Tory MPs last night came out in support of the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement because of concerns about the threat to Brexit if it is voted down;
- The Prime Minister will today say she believes Parliament is more likely to block Brexit than allow no deal;
- Jeremy Corbyn said he would put down a vote of no confidence in the Government if the deal is rejected;
- The Labour leader suggested he would keep Britain’s borders open to migrants if he took power;
- Tory rebel Dominic Grieve teamed up with Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable to publish draft legislation for a second referendum;
- The European Union’s two top leaders are today expected to publish letters reassuring MPs the Irish border backstop will be time-limited;
- Brussels sources claimed the EU was preparing to delay Brexit until July after concluding Mrs May would lose the meaningful vote.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said it would be a huge mistake for MPs to take control of the Brexit process from ministers
How would it work?
If Mrs May’s deal were to be voted down tomorrow, she is required – under the Grieve amendment controversially allowed by Speaker John Bercow last week – to return to the Commons on Monday week to make a statement.
By the end of next week, she will put before the Commons a motion setting out her plan. It would be amended by Labour and rebel Tory MPs to change the standing orders of the Commons – the rules of how Parliament works.
If the Speaker approved – and Parliament agreed – backbenchers would seize power over proposals for new legislation and then submit a single Brexit Bill.
The Bill would give Mrs May 21 days to come up with an alternative plan which commanded the support of a majority of MPs.
If she failed, the liaison committee would then be made responsible for coming up with a new proposed deal. This is made up of 36 select committee chairmen and is dominated by Remainers. It is led by Tory Sarah Wollaston, a campaigner for a second referendum.
The liaison committee would draw up a new Brexit plan and vote on it. If agreed by a majority of the committee, it would go before Parliament – and if MPs approved it, the Prime Minister would be tasked with renegotiating along those lines.
The new deal, if negotiated with the EU, would come back before the Commons and Lords for a vote.
Ministers would be put under a legal duty to extend Article 50 to allow time for the negotiation.
If no deal was done by March 27 and the EU refused an extension to Article 50, it would be revoked.
Sir Oliver Letwin refused to comment yesterday on claims that he is helping to lead the plot to rewrite Commons rules.
Mrs Leadsom, who as Leader of the House is in charge of setting the timetable for Parliament, said it was wrong to undermine ‘centuries of convention and the rulebook’.
She added: ‘The reason why our Parliament is looked up to around the world is because we have the right balance between the executive, the Government who proposes legislation and the timetable, and then a very strong tradition of scrutiny.
‘I am incredibly concerned about it. I am a huge supporter of Parliament and the rights of Parliament, but to overturn the way we run our democracy is an incredibly dangerous prospect.’
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said it would be a huge mistake for MPs to take control of the Brexit process from ministers.
‘My message to anyone who is thinking of that is, this is not a one-off over Brexit. You would change the whole nature of the passage of legislation in the future,’ he told BBC Radio 5 Live.
Mr Boles dismissed talk of a plot, saying: ‘Apparently I am planning a coup. Odd sort of coup that requires a majority of democratically elected MPs to vote for it before the tanks start rolling.’
Pro-EU Tory MP Anna Soubry accused Downing Street of spreading fake news in order to scare Conservative colleagues from voting against the PM’s plan.
Mrs May will today use a speech to factory workers in Stoke to warn that trust in politicians will suffer ‘catastrophic harm’ if they fail to implement the result of the referendum.
Downing Street’s strategy of highlighting how ministers could lose control if the PM’s deal is voted down appeared to bear fruit last night as four Tory Brexiteers who had previously been wavering came out in support.