Commons Brexit showdown looms for Johnson following prorogation row
Opponents of Boris Johnson’s Brexit strategy appear increasingly confident of finding a way to block a no-deal withdrawal from the European Union on October 31.
The Prime Minister has ordered a suspension of Parliament for up to five weeks before a Queen’s Speech on October 14, but Tory rebels and opposition leaders believe there is still enough time to get a measure to prevent a no-deal Brexit through both Houses.
Meanwhile, a judge is expected to rule on a legal challenge aimed at the parliamentary suspension which was approved by the Queen on Tuesday.
Opposition leaders in the Commons have agreed to seek a legislative change when MPs return to Westminster on September 3.
Tory rebel ringleader Sir Oliver Letwin said he had been in talks with Speaker John Bercow about the parliamentary procedures that will apply.
The former minister said he believes “there probably is time” to get a measure to block a no-deal Brexit through Parliament despite the temporary shutdown which will begin in the second week of September.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that it would be “foolhardy” to predict the outcome of any votes, but added: “I know that there are a number of my colleagues who feel as I do, that a disorderly no-deal exit is a very bad idea, and they have in the past been willing to come and support efforts to prevent that happening and I very much hope that will happen again.”
Sir Oliver said the move could force Mr Johnson to delay Brexit beyond the October 31 deadline unless there is a Withdrawal Agreement with Brussels.
And he rejected claims that the measure would weaken the Government’s hand in negotiations with Brussels.
On the Labour side, shadow attorney general Baroness Chakrabarti said: “My own soundings and those of colleagues in discussions over the last couple of days, in particular since the constitutional outrage, give me greater comfort that minds are now focused, especially on the Conservative side.”
She told Today there were ways of preventing filibusters and “any sort of public school dirty tricks” aimed at blocking legislation when it reaches the Lords.
But Mr Johnson’s de facto deputy dismissed the furore over the prorogation move.
Foreign Secretary and First Secretary of State Dominic Raab said: “The idea this is some kind of constitutional outrage is nonsense.
“It’s actually lawful, it’s perfectly proper, there is precedent for it and, actually, fundamentally, for the people watching this, they want to see that we are leaving the EU but also talking about all the other things they expect us to be addressing.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps hit out at the efforts to block a no-deal Brexit.
“If you are in a negotiation, if you don’t have a bottom line which is, in the end, that you will walk away from that negotiation and make it work to your best advantage anyway, then you are unlikely to get a great deal,” he told Today.
“I think for Sir Oliver and others to try to stymie that is entirely counter-productive. It’s much, much better to let us prepare for a no-deal, for the European Union to know that we are serious and that is bringing everyone to the table.”
The prospect of an explosive Commons battle next week came as Mr Johnson called for both the UK and EU to “step up the tempo” in talks.
Downing Street said the UK’s team of Brexit negotiators will sit down with their EU counterparts twice a week during September “with the possibility of additional technical meetings, to discuss a way forward on securing a new deal”.
But Ireland’s deputy prime minister, Simon Coveney, said that so far the UK had not put forward any “credible” alternatives to the backstop – the contingency plan aimed at preventing a hard border with the UK.
“If that changes, great, we will look at it in Dublin, but more importantly it can be the basis of a discussion in Brussels.
“But it has got to be credible. It can’t simply be this notion that ‘Look, we must have the backstop removed and we will solve this problem in the future negotiation’ without any credible way of doing that.
“That’s not going to fly and it’s important that we are all honest about that.”
In Scotland, Judge Lord Doherty will rule on Friday on a legal bid to block Mr Johnson’s move to prorogue Parliament.
A court in Northern Ireland will also hear from lawyers representing anti-no-deal campaigners challenging the move and an attempt to do the same at the High Court in London is also under way.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has encouraged his MPs to join public protests against a no-deal Brexit.
He said: “There are also public protests across the country this Saturday, there will be a rally in Parliament Square on Tuesday evening, and I encourage Labour MPs to be present and to share our message.”
It followed thousands of people protesting outside Parliament on Wednesday evening, while there were smaller demonstrations in other towns and cities.