Brexit: Government could ignore law by MPs to block no-deal, Michael Gove admits

Labour accuses Boris Johnson of presiding over an 'elective dictatorship'

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Sunday 01 September 2019 11:11 BST
'Let's see what the legislation says' Michael Gove asked about government abiding by new law from MPs to delay Brexit

Michael Gove has refused to guarantee the government would obey rebel legislation to block a no-deal Brexit if it passes through parliament in the coming days.

In an astonishing admission, the cabinet minister said "let's see what the legislation says", when asked repeatedly whether the government would abide by a bill preventing them from pursuing a disorderly departure.

Labour's John McDonnell accused Boris Johnson of presiding over an "elective dictatorship", while Sir Keir Starmer demanded immediate clarification from the prime minister.

The row comes ahead of a momentous week in Westminster, as MPs prepare to go to war with the government over the looming prospect of a no-deal Brexit.

A rebel alliance, said to include several ex-Tory cabinet ministers, is expected to try to seize control of the order paper on Tuesday, in order to force through a backbench bill to delay Brexit before parliament is suspended the following week.

Asked repeatedly if the government would abide by legislation preventing a no-deal Brexit, Mr Gove told The Andrew Marr Show: "Let's see what the legislation says.

"You're asking me about a pig in a poke. And I will wait to see what legislation the opposition may try to bring forward."

The chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster hit back at pro-EU MPs, who he accused of being in "denial of democracy".

The comments drew a ferocious backlash, with opposition MPs left shaken by the idea the prime minister could simply refuse to obey legislation compelling him to seek an extension to the 31 October Brexit deadline.

Sir Keir, the shadow Brexit secretary, said: "For ministers not to confirm that this government will accept and comply with legislation lawfully passed is breathtaking.

"The prime minister must make a statement on this straightaway. No government is above the law."

His shadow cabinet colleague, Mr McDonnell, said it was "a startling move beyond anything we’ve ever seen".

He added: "Johnson government is becoming an elective dictatorship.​"

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said: "We now have a UK government that can’t/won’t say a simple ‘yes’ to the question ‘will you abide by the law?’

"Not so much prorogue as just plain rogue. These are dangerous times for democracy. We mustn’t allow this behaviour to be normalised."

And Tory MP Guto Bebb, a former minister, said Mr Gove's comments were "a disgrace to our democracy".

"Not only are they [the government] suspending parliament to try and force through a disastrous no-deal, but now they are suggesting that, even if parliament passed a law requiring the Government to avoid no-deal, they might simply ignore it.

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"Our very democracy is now under threat from Boris Johnson and his government."

The prime minister has urged Tory MPs to back him or see Jeremy Corbyn "plunge the country into chaos" amid reports No10 is considering sacking any Conservative MP who votes with opposition MPs this week.

Rebellions on Brexit votes were tolerated under Theresa May but Downing Street is be considering whether to treat the rebel legislation as a confidence vote.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Mr Johnson refused to rule out using tough tactics against the rebels, including packing out the Lords with Brexiteer peers and asking the Queen to refuse royal assent.

It comes after tens of thousands of demonstrators turned out across the country to protest against the prime minister's shock decision to suspend parliament for more than a month ahead of the Brexit deadline.

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