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Talks between PM and Tory Brexit rebels off

Gove refuses to say if Government would abide by legislation blocking no deal.

Government facing into a torrid week over Brexit (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Government facing into a torrid week over Brexit (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

By Shaun Connolly, PA Political Correspondent

Crunch Brexit talks between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and senior Tory rebels have been cancelled.

As Mr Johnson faced a torrid week of expected Commons clashes over his EU withdrawal stance, a planned meeting on Monday with ex-justice secretary David Gauke and other Conservative critics was called off.

It then emerged that a proposed one-on-one meeting between the PM and former chancellor Philip Hammond would also not take place.

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Former chancellor Philip Hammond (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

The developments came after Cabinet heavyweight Michael Gove refused to say if the Government would abide by legislation blocking a no-deal Brexit if it is forced through by Tory rebels and the opposition this week.

Pressed repeatedly on whether the Government would abide by a successful bid by Commons opponents to pass legislation preventing a no-deal withdrawal on October 31, Mr Gove told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show: “Let’s see what the legislation says.

“You’re asking me about a pig in a poke.

“And I will wait to see what legislation the opposition may try to bring forward.”

Mr Gove added: “For me, the most important thing is to bear in mind actually, we already have legislation in place which an overwhelming majority of MPs voted for.

“We already have an EU Withdrawal Act, we already have the notice on Article 50, the process by which we leave the EU.”

Mr Johnson held a strategy meeting with party whips and senior aides on Sunday in preparation for a tough week ahead.

Opponents of no deal look set to try to seize control of the parliamentary agenda to push through legislation delaying Brexit beyond October 31.

I think that there are a number of economic factors in play - some prices may go up, other prices will come down Michael Gove

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer, who said he favoured legislation to prevent a no-deal scenario, branded Mr Gove’s stance “breathtaking”.

He tweeted: “For ministers not to confirm that this Government will accept and comply with legislation lawfully passed is breathtaking.

“The Prime Minister must make a statement on this straightaway.

“No Government is above the law.”

Tory MP Guto Bebb said Mr Gove’s comments were “a disgrace to our democracy”.

The former minister added: “This Government’s unprecedented willingness to flout the rules is a disgrace to our democracy.

“Not only are they suspending Parliament to try to force through a disastrous no-deal, but now they are suggesting that even if Parliament passed a law requiring the Government to avoid no-deal, they might simply ignore it.

“Our very democracy is now under threat from Boris Johnson and his Government.”

I hope cooler and calmer heads will look at this and think that trying to split the Conservative Party in this way is not a sensible way forward for the Conservative Party, or indeed for the country David Gauke, former justice secretary

Government sources suggested diary issues were to blame for the cancellation of the PM’s meeting with Mr Gauke.

However, the move came after Mr Gauke appeared to indicate he was prepared to risk losing the party whip in order to oppose a no-deal exit from the EU.

He told Sky News: “Sometimes there is a point where… you have to judge between your own personal interests and the national interest.

“And the national interest has to come first.

“But, I hope it doesn’t come to that, and I hope cooler and calmer heads will look at this and think that trying to split the Conservative Party in this way is not a sensible way forward for the Conservative Party, or indeed for the country.”

Pressed on whether there would be shortages of fresh food as a result of a no-deal Brexit, Mr Gove said: “Everyone will have the food they need.”

He added: “No, there will be no shortages of fresh food.”

Asked if food prices would increase, Mr Gove said: “I think that there are a number of economic factors in play.

“Some prices may go up. Other prices will come down.”

Asked if he planned to try to force through a Brexit extension beyond October 31, Mr Gauke said: “I think the detail will become very apparent in the next few days.

“But I think the important thing is that Parliament should not be excluded from this process.

“I don’t believe that no deal has a mandate from the 2016 referendum. I don’t think it has got the support of Parliament.

“And the problem is that if we don’t act in this week, I think that it is likely that Parliament will be excluded from this process.”

International Development Secretary Alok Sharma told Tory rebels to be “clear whose side you are on”.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said the Prime Minister and Government are “insulting the intelligence of the British people” in their explanation for suspending Parliament for up to five weeks until mid-October.

Mr McDonnell described the Prime Minister as being “like a dictator”.

PA

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