Belfast Telegraph

UUP's Swann predicts an election after MPs block proroguing of UK Parliament

Blow: Boris Johnson
Blow: Boris Johnson
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann has said a general election is increasingly likely as MPs yesterday voted to stop a new Prime Minister suspending Parliament to force through a no-deal Brexit.

Boris Johnson is on course to be elected Tory leader next Tuesday. MPs defeated the Government on an amendment which could prevent him proroguing Parliament to facilitate a no-deal Brexit.

Four Cabinet ministers including Chancellor Philip Hammond abstained and 17 Tory MPs rebelled in the vote.

Mr Swann said his party believed no-deal would be disastrous for Northern Ireland.

He said: "Politicians who suggest otherwise are living in cloud cuckoo land. The EU needs a deal, and so does the UK.

"However, given the political impasse in Parliament, it looks increasingly like the only way out may be a general election, which is a gamble the new Prime Minister will be tempted to take.

"But it will be another shot in the dark in the hope of clearing the Brexit logjam."

The DUP said that the Commons' vote was "designed to weaken the hand" of the next Prime Minister. But MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told the BBC that no negotiator should take a no-deal scenario off the table.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood welcomed Parliament's move and insisted that the next Prime Minister couldn't be allowed "to drive the north off the Brexit cliff edge".

He said: "In less than a week, Boris Johnson is likely to become the next British Prime Minister and will form a Cabinet of hard Brexiteers determined to leave the EU against the wishes and interests of people in the north.

"The wave of bluff and bluster that has delivered him to Downing Street is about to collide with a very rocky reality - the withdrawal agreement, including the backstop, is no longer negotiable and no amount of elastic linguistics will change that."

TUV leader Jim Allister said: "The fake outrage of those who never accepted the result of the referendum to leave the EU at the suggestion that Parliament could be suspended to get on with the job is nonsensical.

"They claim they want to preserve democracy when in actual fact what they want to do is frustrate democracy."

But Sinn Fein MLA Caoimhe Archibald said: "The posturing of both Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson have made the prospects of a no-deal crash-out Brexit all the more likely despite today's theatrics in the British Parliament.

"They are showing a complete disregard for the people of Ireland who will be most affected by such a catastrophe. The EU has made it clear that Brexit negotiations are over and that the withdrawal agreement and backstop will not be reopened.

"The EU27 must continue to stand firm regardless of the shenanigans being played."

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said: "We welcome the amendment as it improves the chance of Parliament blocking a catastrophic no-deal Brexit.

"However, that alone is not enough and in order to obtain an extension beyond October 31, either the UK Government or Parliament has to define what it wants to do and formulate a plan."

MPs backed the amendment by 315 votes to 274, and Margot James resigned as Minister for Digital after voting against the Government. Justice Secretary David Gauke, Business Secretary Greg Clark and International Development Secretary Rory Stewart abstained.

Theresa May was said to be "disappointed" that they failed to support the Government.

Jeremy Hunt apologised after revealing that he missed the vote by accident.

He said that he thought he had permission to be away and would have supported the Government.

Mr Johnson voted against the move to block prorogation.

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