Boris Johnson offers MPs ‘last chance’ on election – or face prospect of no-deal
Cabinet ministers raised doubts on whether the EU would grant an extension with French officials taking a hard line on giving the UK more time.
Boris Johnson was expected to ramp up the pressure on MPs to back a snap general election or face five weeks of watching the Brexit negotiations from the sidelines.
Parliament was scheduled to be suspended under the Prime Minister’s orders on Monday, in a move that would suspend all business in the Commons until October 14.
But Mr Johnson will present MPs with a way out of an enforced holiday by giving them another vote on holding a general election before a final decision to prorogue is taken.
An Opposition law, dubbed the Benn Bill after Labour MP Hilary Benn, that would extend the Brexit deadline until January 2020 is expected to receive Royal Assent before prorogation kicks-in but MPs would be thrown out of Parliament almost immediately afterwards and face a nervous wait to see whether Mr Johnson will obey the legislation.
The Conservative Party leader will fly to Ireland to meet with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Monday morning but his counterpart poured cold water on suggestions of a breakthrough on the stalemate over a solution to the Irish backstop, the safety net agreed by the European Union and the UK to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland.
On Sunday, Mr Johnson bunkered down in Chevening, the Foreign Secretary’s country residence, with his closest aides, understood to have included chief strategist Dominic Cummings, where he is understood to have wargamed how the crucial week ahead could pan out.
With the PM being warned by Justice Secretary Robert Buckland about the “importance of the Rule of Law” following hints that Mr Johnson could be tempted to break the law to deliver Brexit by Halloween, Downing Street looked to double down on pushing for an election.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme that any blame for the failure to leave the EU by October 31 could be laid at the feet of Labour and the Liberal Democrats and others opposing no-deal.
“What I’m going to do is redouble our efforts to get a deal but… if we can’t do that, it is very clear that the blockage is Jeremy Corbyn, the Liberal Democrats and others who are not willing to respect the referendum,” he said.
He called the Benn Bill “lousy”, before adding: “The key thing with an extension is it requires agreement on both sides and it is very difficult for the legislation to micro-manage in detail how that conversation will go.”
France has suggested it could veto lengthening the talks, with French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, telling reporters: “We are not going to do this (extend the deadline) every three months.”
The Daily Telegraph, formerly one of Mr Johnson’s employers, quoted a Downing Street source who said Monday would be the final opportunity for MPs to stop no-deal.
To call a general election early using the Fixed-Term Parliament Act (FTPA), two-thirds of MPs would have to agree.
The No10 source reportedly said: “(Monday) is the last chance for Corbyn to be prime minister and negotiate his delay at Brussels (at the European Council summit) on October 17-18.
“If he opposes the people having their say in an election on October 15, then MPs should realise they may not be able to stop no-deal.
The hardball act has been taken with MPs after Taoiseach Mr Varadkar said he did not expect a breakthrough when the pair meet for the first time since Mr Johnson was elevated to PM.
Mr Varadkar said: “I don’t think the meeting tomorrow is a high stakes meeting, as I don’t anticipate a big breakthrough tomorrow.
“If we come to an agreement that agreement will happen in October at the EU summit.”
Amber Rudd’s assessment that more effort is being put into no-deal preparations than the divorce negotiations with Brussels will be tested on Monday with a host of ministers and senior civil servants facing questioning on the UK’s readiness to leave without an agreement in place.
Ms Rudd made the claim after sensationally quitting the Cabinet and the Tory Party on Saturday.
She has been replaced as Work and Pensions Secretary by Therese Coffey, a loyalist who was promoted from her role as environment minister.
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson has essentially disbanded the Europe unit which had led negotiations with Brussels on a Brexit deal, The Times newspaper has reported.
The group working under chief Brexit negotiator David Frost consists of just four staffers, the paper says, whereas it did have more than 50 civil servants at the height of negotiations over the original withdrawal agreement, with additions support also provided by various Government departments.
MPs will also debate on Monday a petition backed by 1.7 million people demanding prorogation must not be prorogued unless Article 50 is extended.