Brexit: MPs plot to rewrite Commons rulebook to prevent Boris Johnson forcing through no deal

Exclusive: ‘If we have a populist in government who is flouting convention and acting in a way that bypasses the sovereignty of parliament, parliament will respond accordingly’

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
,Lizzy Buchan
Sunday 11 August 2019 21:13 BST
What does a no-deal Brexit mean?

Rebel MPs are plotting to rewrite the Commons rulebook to prevent Boris Johnson from forcing through a no-deal Brexit, The Independent has learnt.

Secret talks are being held by cross-party MPs on a plan to rip up parliament’s standing orders to give the Commons powers to stop the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal.

Senior figures involved in the conversations believe the most likely chance of success would be a bill compelling the prime minister to seek an extension from the EU if there is no deal in place by Halloween.

MPs used a similar process earlier this year, seizing control of the Commons order paper to table an anti-no-deal bill by Labour’s Yvette Cooper and Tory MP Sir Oliver Letwin, which squeaked through by a single vote.

It comes as Westminster is gearing up for a series of fraught Brexit battles ahead of the 31 October deadline, amid mounting alarm that the new prime minister is prepared to defy parliament to ensure the UK leaves the EU on time.

Mr Johnson’s most senior aide, Dominic Cummings, reportedly told colleagues that the prime minister could refuse to resign if he loses a confidence vote tabled by Jeremy Corbyn.

Downing Street has also refused to rule out scheduling an early election in the days after the 31 October, meaning the UK could crash out of the EU without a deal during the election campaign.

The Institute for Government delivered a warning to MPs, claiming they now have limited opportunities to stop a no-deal Brexit when parliament returns from the summer recess

But Labour MP Peter Kyle told The Independent: “MPs can change the standing orders of the Commons. It takes a simple majority.

“We can change the standing orders at any time. We govern ourselves.

“We stick to convention because convention delivers the stability our country needs.

“But if we have a populist in government who is flouting convention and acting in a way that bypasses the sovereignty of parliament, parliament will respond accordingly.”

Mr Kyle said the speaker had “extraordinary powers” to protect the powers of parliament and warned that “populists and mavericks” such as Nigel Farage would take control if the Commons failed to do its job.

The Hove MP also tore into Mr Cummings, whom he said had less legitimacy than a parish councillor to speak for the people.

Mr Kyle said: “The idea that the House of Commons is going to go weak at the knees because Dominic Cummings has started spouting populist claptrap and conspiracy theories is ridiculous.”

Another MP involved in the talks told The Independent: “The government will lean over backwards to do everything they can to avoid opportunities for hostile amendments, which is why there has been a focus for some time on thinking, if they do not present the opportunity, how do we carve out the opportunity?

“That takes you into the creative territory, including the control of the business of the house.”

The MP added: “We face considerable obstacles but the general view is where there is a will there is a way, and a quiet confidence that a way through will be found.”

Another method under consideration involved forcing the Commons to sit through the autumn recess, when parliament traditionally rises to allow MPs to attend party conferences.

Under the plans reported by The Guardian, MPs would amend the motion needed for parliament to break for recess in mid-September, clawing back three weeks of sitting time to launch bids to stop a no-deal Brexit.

Mr Johnson has claimed there is “bags of time” for the EU to compromise on a Brexit deal ahead of the 31 October deadline.

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Despite repeated refusals by the EU to reopen Theresa May’s deal, the prime minister said he was confident that Brussels would show “common sense” and agree to strip the controversial Irish backstop from the withdrawal agreement.

Mr Johnson said: “I very much hope that our friends and partners will show common sense and that they will compromise ... I’m sure there is compromise to be found and, as we’ve made clear, the backstop just doesn’t work for a proud democracy like the UK.

“We don’t want to go down that route. But there’s every possibility for the EU to show flexibility.

“There’s bags of time for them to do it and I’m confident they will.”

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