Prime minister says the legislation will ‘scupper’ his chances of awithdrawaldealwith no-deal
The author of a new law to block a no-deal Brexit, which completed its passage through parliament on Friday, has said he is “very troubled” by suggestions that prime minister Boris Johnson will not comply with it.
Hilary Benn, the chair of the Commons Brexit committee, was speaking after Mr Johnson suggested he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than request a further delay to Brexit negotiations.
In a warning to the prime minister not to ignore the legislation in the hope of forcing the UK out of the EU without a deal against parliament’s wishes on 31 October, the senior Labour MP said: “Either we have the rule of law or we do not.”
The passage of Mr Benn’s bill through the House of Lords was the latest blow for the embattled PM in a disastrous week which has seen him repeatedly defeated at Westminster, lose his majority, fail to call a snap election, expel 21 of his MPs and watch his own brother walk out of his government.
The legislation, tabled after MPs seized control of the Commons agenda, is now due to become law by going to the Queen for royal assent before parliamentary sittings are suspended next week.
It paves the way for a snap general election, now almost certain to take place in November, after opposition parties agreed to deny Mr Johnson the two-thirds majority he needs on Monday to trigger a general election before his “do or die” Brexit deadline of 31 October.
Mr Johnson said it will “scupper” his chances of negotiating a Brexit deal with the EU, by giving Brussels confidence that the UK will not crash out without a deal at the end of next month.
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But asked if he would resign rather than request a third Brexit delay from the EU, he replied: “That is not a hypothesis I am willing to contemplate. I want us to get this thing done.”
A Downing Street spokeswoman declined to rule out the possiblity of the PM resigning, saying only: “We are taking one step at a time here.”
Under the terms of the bill, Mr Johnson must request an extension to Brexit negotiations to the end of January next year unless he can secure a deal or parliamentary approval for no-deal by 19
The legislation passed through the Commons in a matter of hours on Wednesday and completed all stages in the Lords in two days after an agreement between the government and opposition parties ended an attempt to quash it with time-wasting amendments in the early hours of Thursday. It had completed all stages in the Commons in a matter of hours on Wednesday.
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Mr Benn said he was “very troubled” by suggestions that Mr Johnson will not comply with the bill’s requirements.
“Delighted that our bill to stop a damaging no-deal Brexit on 31 October has now been passed by the House of Lords, but very troubled by the prime minister’s repeated statements that he will not seek an extension under any circumstances,” said the Brexit Committee chairman.
“Either we have the rule of law or we do not.”
Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, said the passage of the bill was a “hugely important victory in the fight to stop Boris Johnson’s plan for a no-deal Brexit”.
“We will not let this prime minister put jobs and the economy at risk,” said Sir Keir.
Hilary Benn (Getty)
But Tory grandee Sir Malcolm Rifkind condemned the manoeuvre as “juvenile”, warning it would merely introduce a month-long delay to the Brexit process, which would be damaging to business and jobs and prolong uncertainty and political gridlock without affecting the end result.
Speaking to The Independent, Sir Malcolm predicted that Mr Johnson would “grit his teeth” and accept the “humiliation” of the U-turn on his pledge rather than wave goodbye to Downing Street. Or he said Mr Johnson could even stand aside for a matter of weeks and appoint a caretaker PM to undertake the painful job of requesting a further extension before his return to No 10, in order to avoid personally breaking his promise.
Describing the “dead in a ditch” comment as “a theatrical statement, not to be taken too literally”, the former foreign secretary said: “The reality is he is not going to break the law. It is a serious political embarrassment for the government, but in the real world delaying an election which all parties agree is appropriate will have no practical impact on Brexit but will be damaging for business.”
Opposition leaders including Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and Liberal Democrat Jo Swinson agreed in a conference call not to vote for a 15 October election on Monday, because of fears that Mr Johnson could simply ignore the anti-no-deal legislation until the Halloween deadline has passed.
“We were all clear we are not going to let Boris Johnson cut and run,” said a Liberal Democrat spokeswoman.
“The Liberal Democrat position for a while now is that we won’t vote for a general election until we have an extension agreed with the EU. I think the others are coming round to that.
“As a group we will all vote against or abstain on Monday.”
Conservatives branded Mr Corbyn “chicken” for refusing to vote for an election which he has long demanded.
Speaking during a visit to Aberdeenshire, Mr Johnson said: “I’ve never known an opposition in the history of democracy that’s refused to have an election, but that’s their choice.
“I think obviously they don’t trust the people, they don’t think that the people will vote for them, so they’re refusing to have an election.
“And so what we will do is we will go to the summit on the 17th, we’ll get a deal and we’ll come out on October 31.”
The bill includes provisions for MPs to vote on the final version of Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, thanks to an amendment passed by accident when tellers were not provided to record votes against.
A cross-party group calling itself MPs For A Deal – including former Tory minister Rory Stewart, who was expelled by Johnson this week, Labour’s Stephen Kinnock and Caroline Flint and Liberal Democrat Sir Norman Lamb – said May’s compromise plan, drawn up in discussions with opposition leaders, provided “a solid and realistic basis” for the PM to secure a deal which could be put to parliament when it returns from prorogation on 14 October.
With many thanks to: The Independent and Andrew Woodcock Political Editor for the original story @andywoodcock
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