Rebel MPs cannot block a no-deal Brexit, Hancock warns
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has issued a fresh warning to rebel Tory MPs that they cannot stop Boris Johnson taking Britain out of the EU in a no-deal Brexit.
Mr Hancock said pro-EU MPs had a chance to block a no-deal break on October 31 in a series of Commons votes last month before the House broke for the summer recess.
However, he said, they failed to muster the numbers as pro-EU Conservative rebels were cancelled out by pro-Brexit Labour rebels who voted with the Government.
His warning echoes the reported advice by the Prime Minister’s top aide, Dominic Cummings, that the rebels had left it too late to prevent no-deal.
He was said to have told ministers that, even if the Government lost a vote of confidence when Parliament returns in September, Mr Johnson could delay an election until after October 31 by which time, under current legislation, Britain would be out of the EU.
Mr Hancock, who had previously argued, when he was a candidate for the Tory leadership, that Parliament would not allow no-deal, said he had changed his analysis in the light of last month’s votes.
“There were votes in Parliament just before we rose for summer that I thought would stop a no-deal Brexit and actually were defeated,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“There was a vote in particular in the middle of the leadership contest where Parliament was asked if it wanted to stop a no-deal Brexit. I thought that would go through and in fact the Government won by 11.
“I now don’t think it can (stop no-deal). I thought that it could and the votes went differently to what I anticipated. When the facts change, sometimes even as a politician you have to change your mind.”
Senior Labour figures and Tory rebels insisted at the weekend that there are still options open to Parliament to prevent a no-deal.
Since last month their numbers have been boosted potentially by a number of former ministers, such as ex-chancellor Philip Hammond, who previously voted with the Government but have said they will now work to stop no-deal.
Former attorney general Dominic Grieve argued that, under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, if the Government lost a vote of confidence MPs could seek to put a new government of national unity in its place.
It could then go to the EU and ask for a further extension to the Brexit date while MPs worked out what they wanted to do.
Mr Hancock meanwhile played down suggestions that the Government was preparing for a snap general election in the autumn.
Mr Cummings was reported to be preparing for a “people versus the politicians” poll if MPs again seek to frustrate the 2016 referendum vote to leave the EU.
It came as Mr Johnson announced a further £1.8 billion boost for the NHS in the latest of a series of announcements seen to to be preparing the ground for an early election.
However Mr Hancock insisted: “I haven’t talked to Dominic or to the Prime Minister or anybody else in Westminster about this. The only people who keep raising this point are journalists.
“I don’t want one (an election). I don’t think we need one. I think what we need is to deliver Brexit.”