Boris Johnson has been told there is no legal bar to prevent him suspending Parliament for five weeks to stop MPs blocking a No Deal Brexit.
The revelation came amid mounting speculation that the Prime Minister is gearing up for the possibility of a snap election, possibly as soon as mid-October.
Yesterday Mr Johnson admitted it was ‘touch and go’ whether Britain would leave the EU with an agreement on October 31, having previously said the odds were ‘a million to one against’.
But as Mr Johnson predicted Britain could ‘easily cope’ with a No Deal Brexit, Brussels accused him of having no plan to break the deadlock.
Mr Johnson said: ‘This is a great, great country the UK, we can easily cope with a No Deal scenario.’
Boris Johnson (pictured in France yesterday) has admitted it was ‘touch and go’ whether Britain would leave the EU with an agreement on October 31, having previously said the odds were ‘a million to one against’
How he could make sure we leave
Boris Johnson and his allies are ‘war-gaming’ a range of tactics to ensure he can keep his promise to take Britain out of the EU by October 31…
Downing Street has taken legal advice on whether Mr Johnson could suspend parliament in the five weeks from September 9 in order to make it impossible for pro-Remain MPs to block Britain’s departure on October 31. Attorney General Geoffrey Cox is said to have advised that the move would be legal, but MPs have warned that it would spark a constitutional crisis that could see the Queen dragged into the toxic politics of Brexit. The Prime Minister has said he is ‘not attracted’ to the idea but has refused to rule it out.
Force a snap election on October 17
Mr Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, has put ministers on standby for a possible snap election. Ministers fear they could lose a no-confidence vote as early as next week when MPs return to Parliament, forcing a general election. But Mr Cummings has also examined using a parliamentary device to force an election on October 17 as EU leaders gather to debate whether to offer the UK a last-ditch concession. If Mr Johnson won the election it would pile pressure on the EU to cave in. But, with voters divided on Brexit, the strategy is high risk and No 10 said yesterday that he was ‘not planning’ for it.
Strike a deal, then call an election
Mr Johnson and his advisers still believe it is possible the EU will baulk at the prospect of a damaging No Deal Brexit and will agree concessions at a summit in mid-October. He has been encouraged by conciliatory noises from Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron and said yesterday that there was a ‘reasonable’ chance of a deal being struck. If a deal is struck, ministers expect an election to follow quickly to try to build a Commons majority for Mr Johnson’s programme.
Play divide and rule
Mr Johnson’s advisers believe it may be possible to prevent Remainer MPs from blocking No Deal by exploiting the divisions within their ranks and the fragile egos of those seeking to lead them. Tory rebels and Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson have already rejected a proposal to install Jeremy Corbyn as temporary prime minister, and Remainers are divided over whether to seek a second referendum or another delay. No 10 believes many rebels do not have the stomach to block Brexit and can be neutralised if the PM talks up the prospect of a deal until it is too late to stop the UK’s departure.
Speaking to Sky News as he attended the G7 summit in Biarritz, the PM added: ‘Frankly I think it’s highly unlikely that there will be food shortages of any kind. There may be bumps on the road but we will get through.’
The Prime Minister, who held a one-on-one meeting with European Council president Donald Tusk on the sidelines of the gathering with world leaders, argued that a deal or not ‘depends entirely’ on the EU and confirmed that he planned to withhold a large portion of the £39billion Brexit divorce bill if there was No Deal.
He said that ‘very substantial sums’ would be available ‘to our country to spend on our priorities’, adding: ‘It’s a fact of reality.’ In preparation for a possible No Deal, it emerged that the Prime Minister had asked Attorney General Geoffrey Cox for legal advice on whether it would be possible to prorogue parliament from September 9. Initial advice, in a leaked email seen by the Observer, suggests that the controversial tactic ‘may well be possible’.
A No 10 source confirmed that ministers are considering a cut in fuel duty in the autumn Budget, in a move that is certain to be seen as a pre-election sweetener. The source said: ‘It is time to finally put some money back in the pockets of motorists. It also sends a clear message that the PM is fully behind business in the run-up to Brexit.’
However, in signs of Cabinet tension, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps indicated he would rather see resources focused on encouraging motorists to switch to electric vehicles. Mr Shapps told Sky News that the Budget ‘has not even been planned yet’, adding: ‘If you want to ask for my long-term view, it’s electric vehicles.’
A senior government official denied ministers were working towards an election on October 17. Supporters of the plan, which has been examined by the PM’s senior adviser Dominic Cummings, believe an election victory would give Mr Johnson a powerful mandate to demand concessions at an EU summit the following day. But other senior Tories believe the idea is fraught with risk. Asked about the proposal, the senior government official said: ‘The PM is not planning on that.’
No 10 did not deny that Mr Johnson has sought advice on the legality of suspending Parliament but a source said: ‘No 10 seeks legal advice all the time on a whole number of issues. The PM has been clear that he is not going to stop MPs debating Brexit.’
However, the proposal enraged pro-Remain MPs with Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer describing it as ‘outrageous’. Tory rebel ringleader Dominic Grieve accused Mr Johnson of showing ‘contempt for the House of Commons’.
Brussels last night said the ‘ball is firmly and squarely’ in the UK’s court, as EU sources said they were awaiting proposals from Mr Johnson on how technology could be used to avoid a hard border with Northern Ireland.
The Prime Minister, who held a one-on-one meeting with European Council president Donald Tusk on the sidelines of the gathering with world leaders (pictured), argued that a deal or not ‘depends entirely’ on the EU
A source said: ‘If the British have alternative arrangements – concrete, operational alternative arrangements – we are eager to hear about them, but nothing like that was raised.’
The source also dismissed Mr Johnson’s comments that the chances of a deal were ‘improving’. They said: ‘There was a positive atmosphere. But I don’t think you can say that based on the meeting today. It just reconfirmed no one wants No Deal. We need to find some kind of solution and if it cannot be the backstop we need ideas, but we did not get them.’
Meanwhile, Chancellor Sajid Javid has installed a Brexit countdown calendar on his desk at the Treasury to focus minds on the need to prepare the country for Brexit in just over two months.
But the use of a similar clock in No 10 has been vetoed because it was considered to be ‘too stressful’ for officials. Alex Aiken, the civil service’s executive director of communications, is reported to have blocked the idea, fearing it would place ‘too much pressure’ on staff.
Philip Hammond seeks leak apology from Boris Johnson
Philip Hammond has demanded an apology from Boris Johnson over claims he leaked a damaging dossier warning of the risks of a No Deal Brexit.
In an open letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Hammond said it was clear the Operation Yellowhammer document ‘would not have been available to any former minister. I am writing on behalf of all former ministers in the last administration to ask you to withdraw these allegations, acknowledge that no former minister could have leaked this document, and apologise for the misleading briefing from No 10.’
Philip Hammond (pictured) has demanded an apology from Boris Johnson over claims he leaked a damaging dossier warning of the risks of a No Deal Brexit
Meanwhile, Labour called for the document to be published in full to inform public debate about the implications of No Deal.
A No 10 source last night said: ‘I’m sure the Prime Minister will be interested to hear that Philip Hammond represents all former ministers. The PM will respond to the letter in due course.’
PETER OBORNE: I was wrong to think No10 would not contemplate ‘taking back control’ like this – I fear it will end in chaos
At first, I assumed the notorious No 10 spin machine was playing political poker when, several weeks ago, it floated the idea that Boris Johnson could shut Parliament so as to drive through a No Deal Brexit.
I didn’t believe it could have contemplated anything so dangerous. I was wrong.
We are now told that the Prime Minister sought advice from the Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, about whether he could legally stop MPs enforcing a further delay to Brexit.
Downing Street’s response to this report was: ‘No 10 seeks legal advice all the time on a whole number of issues.’ Clearly, therefore, it’s true.
I have little doubt that Mr Johnson and his Downing Street svengali Dominic Cummings would prefer to secure Britain’s departure from the EU in a smooth and constitutional way. But the unelected Cummings has already made it clear that he will stop at nothing to get his way.
For his part, Mr Johnson has said he will ‘do or die’ for Brexit. And Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has openly speculated about ditching Parliament to push through Brexit.
This is deeply troubling.
If such a course is taken, the House of Commons would be excluded from any role in the most important peacetime decision made in British history.
Of course, many Brexiteers feel the way their goal has been blocked, it would be more than justified to suspend Parliament. They are convinced that MPs – who, in the main, voted Remain – have no mandate to stand against the will of the British people as expressed in the referendum three years ago.
Indeed, Theresa May’s downfall was the result of Parliament’s intransigence – a combination of the unforgivable treachery of her senior colleagues and opposition MPs betraying their own manifesto promise and snubbing the result of the EU referendum.
But to others, such a move would be outrageous and a betrayal of this country’s proud democratic record.
MPs opposed to a No Deal Brexit will point to the fact that while the British people voted Brexit – by a relatively narrow margin – three years ago, they never voted for a No Deal Brexit.
Indeed, they say pro-Brexit campaigners blithely claimed the Government would have little difficulty striking an exit deal with Brussels and dismissed as scare-mongering the idea that we might crash out with no deal.
The Prime Minister had asked Attorney General Geoffrey Cox (pictured) for legal advice on whether it would be possible to prorogue parliament from September 9
Crucially, too, Mr Johnson has said there is only a ‘million to one chance’ of No Deal. Now it is becoming increasingly obvious that far from being a vanishingly remote possibility, the Prime Minister has ordered his most senior law officer to advise on achieving a No Deal exit by subterfuge. This is not simply a question of constitutional niceties and political protocol. Such a question was posed to the Attorney General against a background of internal government memos warning of possible economic problems after a No Deal exit and even arch-Brexiteer Nigel Farage warning of trouble.
It would risk jobs being lost and very likely land a fatal blow on most of our car manufacturing industry.
At an non-economic, level, it would risk the break-up of the United Kingdom because the Scottish government would use Brexit as a springboard to push for independence.
Make no mistake, too, Mr Johnson’s idea of suspending Parliament could mean constitutional and political chaos.
For centuries, as a beacon to other countries, Britain has run as a representative democracy. That means Parliament is ultimately sovereign.
By proroguing Parliament for several weeks to force through Brexit, Mr Johnson would be acting against the spirit of the British constitution.
Above all, such a move would require the assent of the Queen – meaning the monarchy being dragged into party politics. Nobody wants that.
A dark irony, I believe, is at work here.
Brexiteers have repeatedly said that leaving the EU was about ‘taking back control’. But they never said that it was about destroying the authority of Parliament and the system of government that has governed Britain since the 17th century.
My guess is that for these very reasons, Messrs Johnson and Cummings are desperate to avoid a prorogation of Parliament – unless as a last-ditch panic move.
That said, I’m sure they are delighted to sow chaos and confusion among Remainer ranks – all the more so as they know Remainers are rudderless, divided and confused.
I suspect Downing Street officials of playing games. But such behaviour at a time of deep seriousness is low, student politics.
Parliament should sit throughout the next 66 days until October 31 – and that means MPs cancelling their annual, autumn party conferences.
Meanwhile, it is incumbent on Boris Johnson urgently to make it clear to the nation that, whatever his legal advice, he will not suspend Parliament and, instead, will allow our elected representatives the freedom to debate the biggest peacetime issue this country has faced for centuries.