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Clarke and Harman ‘prepared to lead government’ to prevent no-deal Brexit

Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson said the veteran Conservative and Labour MPs would ‘put public duty first’ to prevent a deal-less Brexit.

Ken Clarke is prepare to lead an emergency government, Ms Swinson said (Danny Lawson/PA)
Ken Clarke is prepare to lead an emergency government, Ms Swinson said (Danny Lawson/PA)

By Sam Blewett, Political Correspondent, Harriet Line, Deputy Political Editor, and Josh Thomas, Parliamentary Reporter, PA

Tory grandee Ken Clarke and senior Labour MP Harriet Harman are both prepared to lead an emergency government to prevent a no-deal Brexit, according to the Liberal Democrat leader.

Jo Swinson said she has spoken to the pair – who are Father and Mother of the House – and won their assurances they are ready to “put public duty first” to “stop us driving off that cliff”.

The veteran MPs are Ms Swinson’s suggestion as an alternative to Jeremy Corbyn, who has proposed becoming caretaker PM to prevent no deal under Boris Johnson.

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Harriet Harman (Niall Carson/PA)

The Labour leader has appealed to opposition leaders and Tory rebels to back his plan to bring down the Government with a no-confidence vote, extend the Brexit deadline beyond October 31 and force a snap general election.

The SNP, Plaid Cymru and Tory MP Guto Bebb have all signalled they could support the plan.

But the Lib Dems swiftly dismissed it, saying Mr Corbyn was the wrong person for the job and instead suggested the longest continuously serving male and female MPs for the task.

Ms Swinson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I have been in touch with them because obviously you don’t just mention people’s names without checking that they’re OK with that.

“They put public duty first, and they don’t want to see a no-deal Brexit, and if the House of Commons asks them to lead an emergency government to get our country out of this Brexit mess and to stop us driving off that cliff to a no deal, then yes, they are prepared to do that and I think that is to their credit.”

Energy minister Kwasi Kwarteng said he thought it would be “an odd thing” for Mr Clarke to take the helm at the age of 79.

“I’m 44 years old. He was an MP before I was born. He’s been around for a long time,” Mr Kwarteng told Today.

“I think it would be an odd thing for him to lead a unity government, you know. I think he’s nearly 80.”

Ms Swinson has come under pressure from other opposition leaders including SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon to rethink her rejection of Mr Corbyn’s plan.

The Lib Dem leader later wrote to Mr Corbyn to suggest they meet “in the coming days” to work on a no-deal prevention plan.

Senior Remain-supporting Tories Dominic Grieve and Sir Oliver Letwin, as well as independent MP Nick Boles, have also agreed to meet Mr Corbyn.

But Dame Caroline Spelman and the Independent Group for Change ruled out support for any Corbyn government.

Also on Friday, a source close to Dame Caroline dismissed any chance of her meeting with Mr Corbyn, despite the MP’s name appearing on a letter suggesting she was open to talks.

Meanwhile, Chancellor Sajid Javid was to become the first senior member of Mr Johnson’s Government to meet with an EU leader to discuss Brexit, during a trip to Berlin on Friday to see German finance minister Olaf Scholz.

Despite the deadline looming, the Prime Minister has refused to meet the bloc’s leaders for discussions on a new deal unless they agree to scrap the Irish backstop.

PA

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