Brexit: Boris Johnson 'wants to lose' to rebels as excuse to 'purge' moderate Conservatives and stage snap election, Tory ex-minister says

David Gauke says Tories are being 'goaded' to help block a no-deal departure - allowing prime minister to turn to the public for mandate

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Monday 02 September 2019 11:10
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David Gauke says Johnson wants to 'purge' moderate Tories

Boris Johnson wants to “purge” moderate Tory MPs ahead a snap general election he will fight as a “Brexit party”, a rebel former cabinet minister has alleged.

David Gauke said the prime minister – far from preparing to defy parliament with a crash-out Brexit on 31 October – was “goading” Tory MPs to help pass legislation to block a no-deal departure.

Mr Johnson has gone nuclear by threatening to strip the whip from any Conservative MPs who join the revolt – but Mr Gauke said the hardline tactics were all a preparation for going to the polls.

“It is designed to realign the Conservative Party, to transform the Conservative Party very much in the direction of a Brexit party,” the former justice secretary warned.

Revealing there had been no arm-twisting, Mr Gauke added: “They seem to be quite prepared for there to be a rebellion and then to purge those who support the rebellion from the party.”

“Their strategy, to be honest, is to lose this week and then seek a general election having removed those of us who are not against Brexit –not against leaving the European Union – but believe we should do so with a deal.”

Removing the whip and sacking up to 20 Tory rebels would leave Mr Johnson heading a minority government – and with little option but to try to call an election.

However, that would require Labour backing in the Commons, which would be refused unless it took place before Halloween or with an extension to Article 50 to ensure the UK is still in the EU.

The Tory rebels appear to be stiffening their spines, believing this week is the last chance to stop a no-deal, with parliament to be shut down for five weeks from early next week.

They have joined a cross-party alliance which is drawing up legislation they believe will bind the prime minister’s hands and force him to extend the Article 50 process.

An application for an “SO24” for an emergency debate will be put forward tomorrow, with John Bercow expected to break with convention and create time on Wednesday for a backbench bill.

The rebels hope to rush the bill through all its Commons stages on Wednesday, leaving Thursday – and possibly Friday and through the weekend – for a rockier path through the Lords.

The aim is for the bill to have gained royal assent by Sunday night to be assured the law is in place before Mr Johnson prorogues parliament as early as Monday.

Mr Gauke also attacked Michael Gove’s hint that the government will ignore any law to stop a no-deal, an idea he condemned as a “genuine constitutional outrage”.

He has written to Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, to protest, saying: “I think it would be very helpful if the government could clarify that they believe in the rule of law.

“That's why I'm writing to the attorney general and also the Lord Chancellor, who has particular responsibility for this, just to get confirmation that this government believes in the rule of law, that it will comply with the law, and if legislation is properly passed it will be complied with.”

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