MPs may have run out of possibilities to block a future prime minister pursuing a no-deal Brexit, a senior Tory has warned after an attempt to wrestle control of parliamentary business from the government was defeated.
The remarks came as Conservative leadership contenders continued to insist they are willing to leave the European Union without a deal – despite a leaked document saying the UK will not be prepared for a no-deal exit by 31 October.
Speaking after the Labour and cross-party motion was rejected 309 to 298 votes, Sir Oliver Letwin claimed there may be no more opportunities for parliament to intervene to constrain Theresa May’s successor.
“Under the Article 50 process, on 31 October the UK leaves the EU regardless of whether we do or don’t have a deal in place, unless somebody does something to alter that,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
He continued: ”If the government doesn’t bring something before parliament, parliament won’t have a chance to take a view on that as things currently stand because we have run out of all the possibilities any of us can, at the moment anyway, think of for parliament to be able to insist on having a view.
“I have really struggled very hard to think of every available opportunity and I can’t currently think of any more.”
But Sir Keir Starmer, shadow Brexit secretary, struck a more defiant tone, saying: “This is just the start, not the end, of our efforts to block no deal.”
“Labour stands ready to use whatever mechanism it can to protect jobs, the economy and communities from the disastrous consequences of a no-deal Brexit,” he added. “Any Tory leadership candidate should know that parliament will continue to fight against no deal.”
If it had been passed on Wednesday evening, the cross-party motion, tabled by Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and supported by Sir Oliver, MPs would have had control of the Commons agenda on 25 June. This could have enabled MPs to table legislation to prevent a future prime minister from suspending parliament in order to push through a no-deal Brexit without the consent of MPs.
This route – known as proroguing parliament – has been floated by Tory leadership candidates vying to replace Ms May in Downing Street. On Thursday, The Times also claimed frontrunner Boris Johnson had privately assured senior Brexiteers he will leave open the option of suspending parliament to force through a no deal.
Only 10 Conservatives rebelled in the vote on Wednesday evening while eight Labour MPs voted against the party whip and a further 13 abstained – ensuring the motion was defeated in the Commons. Mr Corbyn could be heard admonishing Conservative MPs when the result was announced, saying: “You won’t be cheering in September.”
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies