Boris Johnson has refused to rule out suspending Parliament to ram through a No Deal Brexit in private conversations with hardline colleagues, it has been reported.
The front-runner for the Tory leadership has publicly voiced his opposition to the idea of proroguing this session of Parliament, and yesterday his spokesman repeated the candidate was ‘instinctively averse’ to the option.
He told MPs that he was ‘strongly not attracted to’ the option at an event after the official launch of his campaign yesterday.
But The Times has been been told the former foreign secretary has privately assured the hard-Brexit European Research Group (ERG) of backbench Tory MPs that he would not explicitly rule it out.
Formally launching his leadership campaign, Boris Johnson (pictured leaving his London home today) vowed to stick to the October 31 deadline, saying ‘delay means Corbyn’
‘He’s told the ERG he won’t take prorogation off the table and that he’s signed up to their plan for a ‘managed no-deal’,’ a source on another campaign told the paper.
Last night a second source confirmed Mr Johnson had discussed suspending parliament in a private meeting last week, and a third said: ‘I didn’t hear him rule it out.’
If a future Prime Minister ended this Parliamentary session — a process known as proroguing, which usually happens each year at the end of the Parliamentary session — MPs would be unable to vote to stop a no deal Brexit.
The prospects of a no-deal exit rose sharply yesterday when Remainer MPs including a handful of Tory rebels lost a crucial Commons vote on blocking.
A cross-party motion designed to seize control from the government was defeated by 309 to 298.
A cross-party motion designed to seize control of the Brexit process from the government was defeated by 309 to 298
The Labour-backed move was seemingly timed to coincide with Mr Johnson’s leadership campaign launch – after he vowed to force through Brexit by the end of October at all costs.
Another would-be PM, Dominic Raab, has threatened to suspend Parliament when the deadline comes near to prevent it intervening.
But despite support from prominent Tory rebels including Sir Oliver Letwin and Dominic Grieve – who warned he ‘will not hesitate’ to vote no confidence in the government to avoid No Deal – the bid fell to a surprisingly heavy defeat.
Ten Tory Remainer MPs rebelled against the whip to support the motion but eight Labour backbencher Leavers rebelled against Jeremy Corbyn to help defeat it by 11 votes.
It came hours after Mr Johnson officially launched his leadership campaign and warned that politicians must ‘rise to the challenge’ of delivering Brexit by the end of October or face ‘mortal retribution’ from voters who are ‘in despair’ at the impasse.
At an event in Westminster packed with his MP backers – and his girlfriend Carrie Symonds – the former foreign secretary gave an impassioned account of why he should be the next PM.
Mr Johnson is the hot favourite to win the race to take over from Theresa May in Downing Street – and said the Tories will ‘kick the bucket’ and open the door for Jeremy Corbyn to sneak into power unless they counter the threat from Nigel Farage by following through on the 2016 referendum result.
He said: ‘Now is the time to unite this country and unite this society… After two missed deadlines, we must leave the EU on October 31. And we must do better than the current Withdrawal Agreement.’
Mr Johnson said he did not think No Deal would happen – but it had to be kept on the table. ‘This is a great country and we will rise to the challenge,’ he added.
Opening the debate in the Commons, shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer admitted the mechanism was ‘novel’
Tory grandee Oliver Letwin (left) and Labour shadow Brexit Secretary Kier Starmer (right in the Commons today) were co-signatories of the motion
Commons Speaker John Bercow (pictured) has caused fury by allowing Labour to table a Commons business motion, which would normally be the preserve of the Government
How rebel MPs could still try to block a No Deal Brexit before October 31
A Jeremy Corbyn-led bid to block a No Deal Brexit failed but MPs could try again once they know who will replace Theresa May
A cross-party coalition of opposition MPs wanted to seize control of the House of Commons later this month in order to give them time to potentially pass a law against the UK leaving the EU without a deal.
The bid, led by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, came after Boris Johnson and a number of other Tory leadership contenders suggested they would agree to a No Deal divorce from Brussels on October 31.
While Remain-backing MPs lost on Wednesday, they will almost certainly try something similar again in the near future, most likely when they know for certain who the next prime minister will be.
Some prominent Tory Europhiles did back Mr Corbyn’s motion but some of their colleagues may well have been keeping their powder dry.
Should a Brexiteer committed to delivering a No Deal Brexit succeed Theresa May in late July then at that point pro-EU Tories may well be more inclined to vote in favour of MPs taking control of the process.
That is likely to be a cause of concern for Tory Eurosceptic MPs given the fact that only a handful of Conservatives would need to switch sides in order to consign the government to a damaging defeat.
Such a defeat would make it incredibly difficult for the next prime minister to prevent a further Brexit delay if the UK and EU still have not reached an agreement by October 31.
There is speculation in Westminster that such a scenario would leave a Tory leader who is determined to avoid postponing Brexit any further with no other choice but to call an early election.
Mr Corbyn’s plan relied on using a complicated parliamentary process but MPs do have another more straight forward device if they want to halt the next government in its tracks and potentially stop Britain leaving the bloc without an agreement.
They could call a vote of no confidence which if successful would bring down the government and likely lead to a snap general election.
Despite delivering a performance that seemed deliberately more serious and shorn of his trademark jokes, Mr Johnson said he would never be afraid to shake ‘plaster off the ceiling’ by ‘speaking directly’ – saying the public hates politicians who ‘muffle their language’.
And the failure of the vote yesterday gives a significant boost to his agenda of delivering Brexit by 31 October, after Tory Remainers failed to rebel in sufficient numbers to support the motion, that would have let MPs who oppose Brexit take control of the Parliamentary agenda and attempt to block No Deal.
Before the vote Speaker John Bercow had been accused of ‘constitutional vandalism’ for allowing the Opposition to table a business motion – which can usually only be done by the government.
Opening the debate in the Commons, shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer admitted the mechanism was ‘novel’.
But he said it was a response to the threat to deprive MPs of a say in a decision that will define the country’s future.
‘We face the very real challenge that the next PM will force through a No Deal Brexit without the consent of this Parliament or the British people,’ he said.
‘If the government cannot control the business of the House the government should go.’
During the debate Tory former Chancellor Ken Clarke lashed out at the idea a new PM could use ‘dictatorial powers’ to ensure No Deal.
Addressing Brexit Secretary Steven Barclay he said: ‘Is he actually prepared to defend a situation where a new PM wants to pursue a policy that he or she knows has no majority in the House of Commons?’
Sir Oliver Letwin, described No Deal as a ‘bomb’ that needed to be ‘defused’.
He warned: ‘They (a future Prime Minister) don’t need to go to the lengths of prorogation in fact they don’t need to do anything.
‘If they do nothing, if they introduce nothing before the House of Commons, which gives the House of Commons an opportunity for such a vote, the House of Commons will not, in the absence of this motion and what follows it, have any such opportunity.’
In an extraordinary intervention, Mr Grieve raised the prospect of supporting a no-confidence vote in the government if it tried to take the UK out of the EU without a deal.
These are the ten Tory rebels, including Sir Oliver Letwin and Dominic Grieve, who voted to stop No Deal
There were eight Labour MPs who voted against their leader Jeremy Corbyn to win the vote for the Tories
‘The only way of stopping that prime minister would be to bring down that prime minister’s government,’ he said.
‘And I simply have to say here and now I will not hesitate to do that if that is what is attempted, even if it means my resigning the whip and leaving the party.
‘I will not allow this country to be taken out of the EU on a no-deal Brexit without the approval of this house, in my view going back to the country and asking them if that is what they want.’
However, Labour MP Gareth Snell said he now regretted not voting for Mrs May’s deal in March.
Mr Snell, who represents Leave-backing Stoke-on-Trent, said: ‘For three times when the opportunity presented itself to me I have not voted for a deal, the last time in March I followed my party line that I would not support the deal that was put in front of me – and I made a mistake.
‘On that date I should have voted for a deal.
‘And I will now vote for a deal if a deal is brought forward because it is inconceivable that we can continue with this line of debate where we seek to make decisions we want to make and avoid making the decisions we have to make.’
If the motion had passed, a Bill would have been brought forward within weeks that could make it illegal to suspend parliament to force a No Deal – a proposal mooted by some Tory hopefuls. Rebels has been threatening to broaden the legislation to ban crashing out altogether.
Ten MPs are on the ballot as Tory MPs prepare to vote on who will be their next leader
How will the Tory leader battle play out and what for next for Brexit?
THURSDAY, JUNE 13
This will be another critical day, as the first ballot takes place.
Anyone with fewer than 16 votes will be automatically eliminated, and at least one will be ejected.
THURSDAY, JUNE 19
Further rounds of voting will take place during June until there are just two candidates left by this point.
They will then go to a run-off ballot of the 160,000 Tory members.
WEEK OF JULY 22
The winner is due to be declared this week.
They will take over from Mrs May as PM shortly afterwards – probably in time to take a session of PMQs before the Commons breaks up for its summer recess.
MPs go on holiday for seven weeks.
Parliament returns from recess, with two months until Brexit – but there are three weeks of party conferences where the Commons will not sit.
OCTOBER 31: The latest deadline for Britain to leave the EU.
The move to wrest control of Parliamentary business from the Government had the support of former Cabinet ministers, as well as all the Liberal Democrats, SNP and Greens.
One senior Tory accused Mr Bercow, who has spoken out against Brexit in the past, of ‘constitutional vandalism’.
But his decision meant MPs were asked to vote on a Commons motion tonight which would have given pro-Remain MPs control of the parliamentary timetable on June 25.
Labour said MPs would then ‘have the chance to introduce legislation that could help avoid the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal’.
The legislation would have focused on ruling out the option of suspending Parliament to push through No Deal, which has been floated by leadership contenders Dominic Raab and Esther McVey.
But a Tory source involved in the move said further legislation would follow if any new PM tried to pursue a No Deal Brexit.
The source said: ‘We will start by ruling out proroguing Parliament but at a bigger level it is showing that Parliament will block No Deal.
‘We are flexing our muscles to remind Boris and anyone else that they cannot do this.’
Shadow Brexit minister Jenny Chapman said the vote on blocking a no-deal Brexit is a ‘safety valve’ aimed at Tory leadership contenders pledging to freeze MPs out of the decision.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘This is about that safety valve, that lock in the process, so that somebody who may find themselves elected a leader of the Tory Party on a promise of, in Dominic Raab’s case, proroguing Parliament, and locking Parliament out of this process – they can’t do that.
How would the Remainer plan have worked?
Normally only the government can table business motions in the Commons.
But Speaker John Bercow has bent the rules to allow Labour to lay a motion in their Opposition day slot, with support from other parties.
If passed in a vote this afternoon, the plan would seize control of the Parliamentary timetable on June 25.
On that date MPs will be able to put forward legislation instructing the government how to handle the Brexit process.
Initially the Remainers say this law would be restricted to preventing the Commons from being suspended to stop it blocking No Deal at the end of October – as some Tory leadership hopefuls have suggested.
However, rebels have made clear they will go further if any PM tried to take the UK out of the bloc without a deal.
‘They would have to come back to Parliament and get the consent of MPs.’
The initiative was modelled on the successful bid by Labour’s Yvette Cooper earlier this year to change the law and force Mrs May to seek an extension to Article 50 rather than leave without a deal.
That bid passed by just one vote. But rebels had insisted there were ‘easily enough’ Conservative MPs to push it through this time.
Former Tory minister Nick Boles said he was flying back from abroad to back the bid.
Sir Keir described the Tory debate about No Deal as ‘disturbing, ludicrous and reckless’.
He added: ‘We have witnessed candidates openly advocating a damaging No Deal Brexit and even proposing dragging the Queen into politics by asking her to shut down Parliament to achieve this.’
The move came after ministers argued over Brexit at a meeting of the Cabinet.
Government Chief Whip Julian Smith warned that Parliament could ultimately prevent a No Deal exit and would use ‘all endeavours’ to do so.
Mr Barclay called for preparations to be stepped up for a potential No Deal Brexit in October, but was slapped down by Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, who said the cash would be better spent dealing with priorities like child poverty and education.