David Gauke dismisses claims Brexit rebels received foreign help
A former cabinet minister has accused Downing Street of issuing false briefings about MPs trying to block a no-deal Brexit.
David Gauke, the former justice secretary, said claims that MPs behind the so-called Benn Act had received help from foreign governments were “not true”.
He said that No 10 appeared to be pushing a narrative that anyone who disagreed with the Government’s position was “unpatriotic or betraying the country”.
The Mail On Sunday reported that Downing Street had launched a major investigation after receiving intelligence MPs had received help in drafting the legislation from members of the French government and the EU.
It quoted a senior No 10 source as saying that “extensive” inquiries were under way into former Conservative ministers Sir Oliver Letwin and Dominic Grieve and the senior Labour MP Hilary Benn.
The source is quoted as saying: “We will demand the disclosure of all details of their personal communications with other states.
“The drafting of primary legislation in collusion with foreign powers must be fully investigated.”
However Mr Gauke, one of 21 MPs to have the Tory whip withdrawn after rebelling over Brexit and who was also involved with the bill, insisted the claim they received help from foreign powers was without foundation.
“It is not true.
“Here is a very good example of a No 10 briefing, using the word ‘collusion’, providing no evidence that there was anything supporting this statement of help with the drafting coming from foreign countries. It is not true,” he told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme.
“Even if it were true, the use of language of that sort is completely disproportionate, completely over the top, and feeds into this narrative that anyone who doesn’t agree with No 10’s position is somehow unpatriotic or betraying the country or wanting the country to surrender.”
Mr Gauke refused to be drawn on claims the so-called “rebel alliance” had drawn up plans for a second bill which would enable Commons Speaker John Bercow to bypass Boris Johnson and ask the EU for a further Brexit delay if the Prime Minister refused to do so.
He made clear however that the Benn Act was “effective” and warned Mr Johnson against any attempt to get circumvent it.
“I don’t want to get drawn into specific ideas. What I would say is the Benn Act is effective, it does what it is intended to do, and it should be abided by,” he said.
“There are lots of suggestions of loopholes and so on.
“As far as I can see, anything that has been suggested so far can be easily dealt with and if necessary the courts will ensure the will of Parliament and the law is complied with.
“The Prime Minister, to be fair, has been clear that he is going to abide by the law.
“To suggest otherwise, the sort of hints that ‘Oh, somehow we’re not going to do that’ is dangerous.
“It undermines the rule of law in this country.”