MPs will ‘find a way’ to block a no-deal Brexit, justice secretary says

House of Commons will ‘find mechanisms’ to stop UK leaving EU without a deal, David Gauke predicts, as he criticises Boris Johnson’s ‘do or die’ pledge

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Thursday 04 July 2019 20:05
Boris Johnson pledges to deliver Brexit by 31 October 'do or die'

MPs will find a way to stop a no-deal Brexit if the next prime minister tries to force one through, a senior cabinet minister has said.

David Gauke, the justice secretary, predicted that “a way will be found” to stop Britain leaving the EU without a deal, given a majority of MPs are opposed to such an outcome.

It is unclear whether the House of Commons has the power to force the government to avoid no deal, but Mr Gauke said he thought MPs would find “other mechanisms” to stop it from happening.

He also criticised Boris Johnson’s Brexit policy and called on the former foreign secretary to rule out suspending parliament, saying such a move would be a “constitutional outrage”.

Mr Gauke is a vocal opponent of a no-deal Brexit and is likely to be moved out of the cabinet if Mr Johnson is elected as prime minister. The current Tory leadership frontrunner has said he only wants cabinet ministers who would be willing to deliver no deal.

On whether MPs would be able to stop Britain crashing out of the EU, Mr Gauke told The House magazine: “If I was to speculate on it, given that we have an activist speaker, given that there is a parliamentary majority against no deal, a way will be found.

“Then that leaves the question of well, what would the new prime minister do in those circumstances. Would he try to resolve this by changing parliament? In other words, by having a general election. But the idea of a general election before we have resolved Brexit is extremely risky for the Conservative Party.

“That is a very difficult choice, particularly if your language has been so strong about we will definitely do or die have left the European Union on 31 October.”

A number of current ministers are expected to return to the backbenches once the new leader takes over and are likely to vote against any plan to take Britain out of the EU without a deal, if parliament is given the opportunity to do so.

Mr Gauke said “quite a lot of ministers” shared his view that no deal would “inflict very considerable pain on a lot of our fellow citizens” and would “completely destroy the economic credibility of the Conservative Party”.

Some Tory MPs are so opposed to no deal that they are thought to be prepared to vote against a Conservative government in a no-confidence vote to stop it, but Mr Gauke said he would not be among them.

He said: “I think the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister is one that chills me even more than a no-deal Brexit. It seems to me supporting a no-confidence motion leads to a Corbyn government. But I do think that parliament will find other mechanisms to try to stop this from happening.”

The justice secretary said it would be “practically impossible” for Mr Johnson to renegotiate a Brexit deal by 31 October and criticised the former foreign secretary’s “do or die” promise to deliver Brexit by that date.

He said: “If we get ourselves trapped into the position that it’s ‘do or die’ or ‘come hell or high water’ on 31 October, I worry that there is little scope for renegotiating between now and the end of October. If there is scope for renegotiating, there is no real scope for legislating subsequently in that timeframe.

“I see it as being very hard to find a way in which we can deliver a deal that has been agreed and legislated upon by 31 October. When I say very hard, I mean practically impossible, so I worry about that. I’ve certainly not heard a clear explanation of how that can be done or indeed how that can be done when parliament will be determined to try to stop it.”

Mr Johnson has repeatedly refused to rule out suspending parliament if MPs attempt to block a no-deal Brexit, although he has said he would not want to resort to such a dramatic move.

Mr Gauke called on the frontrunner to succeed Theresa May to “provide some clarity” on whether he would ever prorogue parliament.

He said: “The idea of suspending parliament because parliament opposes a particular policy, and that the only way of delivering massively important, controversial policy is by ensuring that parliament doesn’t get to have a vote on it, would be a constitutional outrage. Clearly, it would be completely unacceptable for a government to behave in that way.

“In what would be most extraordinary circumstances, I think you would find you’d get most extraordinary responses. You would have the executive up against parliament, and I think a clear majority of parliament. There would be a large number of Conservative MPs who would consider that behaviour to be beyond the pale.

“I don’t for a moment believe that Boris Johnson would prorogue parliament, but I do think he ought to make that clear. He should provide some clarity on that.”

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