Belfast Telegraph

Phillip Hammond says rebel MPs 'have the numbers' to defeat Johnson on Brexit

Phillip Hammond. (Neil Hall/PA)
Phillip Hammond. (Neil Hall/PA)

By Kevin Doyle

An alliance of opposition parties and rebel Conservative MPs should have the numbers to defeat Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government on Brexit on Tuesday, former Chancellor Philip Hammond said.

"I think we will have the numbers," he told BBC Radio. "I think there will be enough people to get this over the line."

"Many colleagues have been incensed by some of the actions over the last week or so," he said. "I think there's a group of Conservatives who feel very strongly that now is a time where we have to put the national interest ahead of any threats to us personally or to our careers."

With 59 days to go until the UK is due to leave the European Union on Oct. 31, the cross-party group will use parliament's first day back from its summer break to launch their attempt to block a no-deal exit.

Johnson has warned Conservative lawmakers they will be expelled from the party if they vote with the opposition. A government source has also said Johnson would seek an election if he loses the Brexit vote.

Hammond said he intended to stand as a Conservative at the next election and he did not believe Downing Street could stop him. "There would certainly be the fight of a lifetime if they tried to (stop me)," he said, showing the depth of anger in the party.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's supporters have been warned to be on an election footing "at all times" as Brexit uncertainty consumes the political agenda, the Irish Independent can reveal.

Ahead of tough Budget negotiations, Fine Gael headquarters has instructed constituency organisers to make "a major push" on preparations "in the next few weeks".

The timing of the correspondence will be seen as significant by Fianna Fail as it prepares to lay out its demands for Budget 2020.

Both parties have agreed that their Confidence and Supply arrangement should allow Mr Varadkar's government to remain in power until at least spring. However, mounting speculation that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will go to the polls in mid-October is having a ripple effect here.

However, the mounting speculation that Prime Minister Boris Johnson will go to the polls in the coming weeks is having a ripple effect in Ireland with chances of a similar poll increasing.

In correspondence seen by the Irish Independent, Fine Gael HQ tells members: “With the continuing uncertainty over Brexit, and the fact that the Government does not have a majority in the Dail – we must be election-ready at all times.”

It notes that Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe has ordered a number of changes to constituency tickets since the local elections in May and the situation remains under “constant review”.

The email added: “Whilst a number of constituencies have their election posters printed already, there will be a major push for all constituencies to place orders in the next few weeks.”

Members are also asked to support two major fundraising drives that will take place between now and Christmas.

The party’s annual president’s dinner will take place three days before the Budget on October 8, while the ‘superdraw’ is in early December.

The latter raised almost €1m last year and helped fund candidates in the local and European elections.

Mr Varadkar plans to meet the prime minister next week – but those talks remain up in the air until there is some clarity as to whether a majority of MPs will try to block Mr Johnson leaving the EU on October 31 without a deal.

In any event, there is little expectation that the Brexit impasse can be broken during bilateral talks between Dublin and London.

The Government insists the EU Taskforce, led by Michel Barnier, speaks on its behalf in Brexit negotiations.

The Taoiseach said yesterday he was willing to “listen to any proposal” for maintaining an open Border on this island. “The backstop is a means to an end. It’s there to ensure that we continue to have frictionless trade North and south, that there is no physical infrastructure, no checks, no controls, no tariffs,” he said.

Sources in Ireland and the EU see little or no progress being made on an alternative to the backstop.

But Mr Johnson said he believed talks with Brussels had moved forward in recent weeks, because the UK government “wants a deal, has a clear vision for the future relationship” and was clear that the UK would leave the EU on October 31 “come what may”.

In the background, Mr Donohoe has begun work on his Budget. He is operating on the basis that the UK will crash out of the EU – but has not ruled out potential tax cuts and targeted social welfare increases.

Formal talks with Fianna Fail on the make-up of the package will get underway shortly after the Dail resumes on September 17.

“If we are in a no-deal scenario, we are going to have other priorities that we will have to respond back to,” Mr Donohoe said.

Irish Independent

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