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Downing Street says backbencher Brexit moves are ‘extremely concerning’

A group led by the former attorney general Dominic Grieve is reported to be seeking to suspend the Article 50 withdrawal process.

Prime Minister Theresa May (Yui Mok/PA)
Prime Minister Theresa May (Yui Mok/PA)

Downing Street has hit out at moves by rebel MPs to rewrite the Commons rule book in an attempt to derail Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.

The two groups of MPs are said to be planning to table amendments to enable backbench MPs to take control of the business of the House to frustrate Theresa May’s Brexit plans.

One group led by Tory former minister Nick Boles and the senior Labour MP Yvette Cooper is attempting to block a no-deal Brexit – something Mrs May strongly opposes.

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Yvette Cooper has spoken out against a no-deal Brexit (Yui Mok/PA)

However The Sunday Times reported that a second group led by the former attorney general Dominic Grieve wants to go further and suspend the Article 50 withdrawal process.

Downing Street described the moves as “extremely concerning” and said they underlined the need for MPs who supported Brexit to vote for it in the House.

“The British public voted to leave the European Union and it is vital that elected politicians deliver upon that verdict,” a No 10 spokeswoman said.

This news should serve as a reminder to those MPs who want to deliver Brexit that they need to vote for it - otherwise there is a danger that Parliament could stop Brexit

“Any attempt to remove the Government’s power to meet the legal conditions of an orderly exit at this moment of historic significance is extremely concerning.

“This news should serve as a reminder to those MPs who want to deliver Brexit that they need to vote for it – otherwise there is a danger that Parliament could stop Brexit.”

The reports comes as Mrs May prepares to brief Cabinet ministers on her talks with other party leaders and senior MPs following the crushing defeat of her Brexit deal last week in the Commons.

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Former attorney general Dominic Grieve has previously said politicians have a duty to prevent the country committing national suicide in relation to Brexit (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

The Sunday Times said it had obtained leaked emails showing that Mr Grieve had been in secret communication with a Commons clerk of bills Colin Lee to discuss how it could be possible suspend Article 50.

In one email sent on Wednesday, Mr Lee was said to have made clear that the aim of the plan was to delay Brexit.

“What follows is just for you and you will understand the terms,” he said.

“We have been thinking that legislation is needed, but it occurs to me the substantive motion, say calling for Article 50 extension, could be made.”

It is common practice for clerks to provide advice to Members on the drafting of many items of parliamentary business, such as bills, motions and amendments

In a statement, a House of Commons spokesman said: “It is common practice for clerks to provide advice to Members on the drafting of many items of parliamentary business, such as bills, motions and amendments.

“This advice is provided on a rigorously impartial basis. We do not comment on individual cases.”

Former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme that Mrs May should rule out extending Article 50.

He said: “If there’s an attempt to reverse the referendum, stop Brexit altogether I think that would cut across not only the democratic mandate, the biggest in history we had.

“I think also if you look at current public opinion and how it’s shifted by two to one as I said people want us to respect the referendum.”

Mr Raab went on to say that to break the deadlock with Brussels the negotiating team should be changed, he said: “For all the great work the civil servants have done, I think to close this deal it needs to be politically led and driven so taken into control of the politicians.”

Mrs May is due to make a statement to MPs on Monday setting out how she intends to proceed with Brexit after the tumultuous events of last week.

She will also table a “neutral” motion – which is expected to attract a flurry of amendments from MPs – which will be debated and voted on on January 29.

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International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has warned of the consequences if Brexit is not delivered (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

With feelings running high, the pro-Brexit International Trade Secretary Liam Fox warned of a “political tsunami” if the Government fails to deliver on the 2016 referendum vote.

He also hit out at ministers calling for Mrs May to rule out a no-deal Brexit, saying the “most stupid thing possible” in a negotiation is to “give away your strongest card”.

Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, Dr Fox said: “Failure to deliver Brexit would produce a yawning gap between Parliament and the people, a schism in our political system with unknowable consequences.

It is a matter of honour and a matter of duty

“The reaction of the Question Time audience could become a political tsunami. It is time for MPs to deliver on the promises they made. It is a matter of honour and a matter of duty.”

In a letter to the Telegraph, 50 Tory association chairmen and other senior grassroots figures said the party’s 2017 manifesto stated “no deal was better than a bad deal”, and failing to honour that pledge would be a “breach of trust with with voters and party members”.

Meanwhile Commons Speaker John Bercow, was said to be considering abandoning his plans to step down this summer after Cabinet ministers threatened to deny him a peerage because of his alleged “bias” against the Government over Brexit.

The Observer reported that “friends” of Mr Bercow who have been in contact with him recently said he was now “seriously reflecting” on whether to stay on – possibly until 2022.

It follows reported briefings last week by Government that someone who had “cheated centuries of procedure” should not expect to be elevated to the House of Lords.

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