Boris Johnson’s vow to deliver a no-deal Brexit is facing a major cross-party ambush after Labour moved to give parliament new control over the process.
In a deliberate pre-emptive strike, opposition parties will join forces on Wednesday to set in train a plan to use Commons powers to block Johnson’s flagship Tory leadership pledge.
A clutch of Tory MPs - particularly those terrified of a no-deal outcome - are considering backing the plans, HuffPost UK understands.
Tory leadership contender Rory Stewart said that his ‘instinct’ was that he would be “wholly supportive” of such Labour’s plan.
Under the proposal drafted by shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer, MPs would take control of parliamentary business on Tuesday June 25 to prevent any move to allow Britain’s exit from the European Union without a deal with Brussels.
The move also seeks to halt any attempt by Brexiteers to ‘prorogue’ or effectively shut down parliament in a bid to run down the clock to October 31 - when the UK is set to automatically quit the EU.
Tory contender Dominic Raab has threatened to prorogue parliament, sparking a huge backlash from scores of fellow Conservatives - including rival Rory Stewart - who accused him of ‘dictatorship’ tactics.
Frantic behind-the-scenes efforts are now being launched to draft a binding motion for June 25 that could command a majority.
Under one plan, senior Tory Dominic Grieve aims to revoke the Article 50 process rather than allow a no-deal. However Labour is unlikely to opt for such a hardline measure.
Sir Oliver Letwin, another ‘grandee’ who has signed the cross-party motion, is busy devising his own legislative solution to the problem, possibly involving a change to the standing orders of the Commons to defeat a no-deal plan.
Stewart, speaking at his leadership launch in London’s South Bank, said: “A proposal is now being brought forward through legislation to try to take no deal off the table and prorogation off the table.
“The first thing is I’m entirely against no-deal and entirely against prorogation.
“I haven’t read the detail of this. My instinct is I would be wholly supportive of a move that tried to do that. Why? Because no-deal is not a credible threat.”
But Brexiteer and Johnson-backer Steve Baker hit out, warning the move could spark a general election that would see Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party wipe out the Tories.
“Oliver Letwin brings closer a general election which could leave the Conservatives holding as few as 26 seats.
“Colluding with this Labour leadership to deny government control of the Commons business is unconscionable for being firmly against the national interest.”
One leadership campaign also pointed out that Letwin was part of Michael Gove’s bid for No.10. “Gove’s campaign is dead. But if it wasn’t this confirms it.”
But an ally of Gove said: “All leadership candidates will need to win support of colleagues across the party. Michael has always been clear that no-deal must remain on the table.”
Johnson is set to launch his leadership campaign on Wednesday but the latest move threatens a major constitutional crisis if parliament stands up to a new Tory leader.
Labour sources stressed that it was too early to speculate about the precise mechanism to block Johnson and the party was more focused on the principle.
The party will wait and see the solution that cross-party efforts devise if their motion is passed on Wednesday.
Starmer said there was an urgent need to act before the Tory leadership contest picks a new leader in July.
“MPs cannot be bystanders while the next Tory prime minister tries to crash the UK out of the European Union without a deal and without the consent of the British people,” he said.
“That’s why we are taking this latest measure to end the uncertainty and protect communities across the country.”
In Brussels, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned the Tory contenders not to think they could renegotiate the Brexit deal.
“We’ve concluded with Theresa May the Withdrawal Agreement. This isn’t a treaty between May and Juncker, this is a treaty between the UK and the EU. It has to be respected by whomsoever will be the next British Prime Minister.”
The full motion:
Sir Vince Cable
Mr Nicolas Brown
Business of the House Motion (United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union)
(1)That, on Tuesday 25 June –
(a) Standing Order No. 14(1) (which provides that government business shall have precedence at every sitting save as provided in that order) shall not apply;
(b) precedence shall be given to a motion relating to the Business of the House in connection with matters relating to the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union;
(c) if more than one motion relating to the Business of the House is tabled, the Speaker shall decide which motion shall have precedence;
(d) the Speaker shall interrupt proceedings on any business having precedence before the Business of the House motion at 1.00 pm and call a Member to move that motion;
(e) debate on that motion may continue until 2.00 pm at which time the Speaker shall put the questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on that motion including the questions on amendments selected by the Speaker which may then be moved;
(f) any proceedings interrupted or superseded by this order may be resumed or (as the case may be) entered upon and proceeded with after the moment of interruption.