Johnson heads for Tory conference after turmoil at Westminster
Tory activists will begin gathering for Boris Johnson’s first party conference as Prime Minister after a tumultuous week for the Government.
Mr Johnson will arrive in Manchester determined to press home his message that Britain will leave the EU on October 31 whatever happens.
He can expect to receive an ecstatic reception from the party faithful – who overwhelmingly back Brexit – when the conference formally opens on Sunday.
But he leaves behind a Westminster in turmoil after the Supreme Court ruled his five-week suspension of Parliament was unlawful.
The Prime Minister was accused of whipping up violence against MPs after a series of incendiary Commons exchanges with opposition MPs.
And he faces a possible criminal investigation over his links with an American businesswoman when he was London mayor after allegations of favourable treatment were referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct.
Mr Johnson insisted that he deplored any threats or violence towards parliamentarians – particularly women.
However he refused to apologise for describing legislation designed to prevent a no-deal Brexit as the “surrender act”.
Many MPs believe it is part of a deliberate strategy by his chief adviser Dominic Cummings to lay the ground for a “people versus Parliament” general election.
The opposition parties are refusing to allow him to go to the polls until they are sure that a no-deal Brexit on October 31 is completely off the table.
Under the terms of the so-called Benn Act, Mr Johnson is obliged to seek a further extension to the Article 50 withdrawal process if he has not got a deal with the EU by October 19.
The Prime Minister has said he will abide by the law, but at the same time insists Britain will be leaving on October 31 come what may.
Some MPs suspect he will try to find ways of circumventing the act and opposition leaders are due to meet again on Monday to discuss further ways of tying his hands.
It means the Government whips will be on standby for a potential Commons ambush while the Conservatives are away in Manchester.
Unusually, Parliament will be sitting while the conference is taking place after MPs refused to give the Government a three-day recess in the bitter aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling.
The Conservatives have insisted the conference will carry on regardless.
It could mean Mr Johnson skipping Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday as it clashes with his keynote speech.
Such a move – with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab deputising – would almost certainly be seen a a fresh gesture of contempt for MPs.
Ministers meanwhile insist they can still get a deal with the EU despite gloomy noises about the prospects coming from Brussels.
After a meeting with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier in the Belgian capital on Friday, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said the “moment of truth” was approaching.
Diplomats in Brussels are reportedly expecting the UK side to table long-awaited proposals to resolve the issue of the Northern Ireland backstop once the Tory conference is over.