Boris Johnson could ignore new legislation instructing ministers to swerve a damaging no-deal Brexit, Michael Gove has suggested.
Opposition MPs will on Tuesday put forward plans to stop Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal on October 31, in what Labour Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer has said is “almost certainly” their “last chance” given parliament will soon be shutdown.
Speaking on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show, however, cabinet minister Gove three times refused to confirm whether the government would abide by it even if MPs and peers passed it.
Presenter Andrew Marr asked the minister: “So if Sir Keir Starmer and others are able to get their legislation through the House of Commons and the House of Lords this week instructing the government that it may not leave on October 31 without a deal, is there any way of avoiding that from your point of view?”
Gove said he would wait to see what was in the bill, adding: “His [Starmer’s] intention is in essence to say that after three years during which the referendum result has not been respected to have more delay and in that sense we see the light at the end of the tunnel. We see a deal coming down the line.
“And just as we see the light at the end of the tunnel, Keir is saying let’s have more tunnel.
“I do not believe that the British people want more delay and more prevarication, more denial of their original democratic vote.”
Marr replied: “The British people want a very clear answer to this question, which is if this legislation goes through both houses of parliament, does the government abide by it?”
Gove again refused to confirm that Johnson would act on parliament’s instruction.
“Let’s see what the legislation says,” he said.
“The answer has to be yes, doesn’t it,” Marr replied.
Gove continued: “Let’s see what the legislation says. You are asking me about a pig and a poke. And I will wait and see what the opposition try to bring forward.”
Marr continued to press the minister, adding: “We are in unprecedented times but for the government to say it won’t abide by legislation is impossible, surely?”
Gove repeated his answer and said MPs had previously voted to trigger Article 50 and had backed the Withdrawal Bill, which copied EU law into UK law.
He said: “Let’s see what the legislation says. For me, what is most important to bear in mind is that we already have legislation which the overwhelming majority of MPs voted for.”
The interview came the day after thousands took to the streets to protest against the government’s plan to suspend parliament between September 9 and October 14, severely cutting down the time MPs have to block no-deal.
Tory MP Guto Bebb said Gove’s comments were “a disgrace to our democracy”.
The former minister added: “Our very democracy is now under threat from Boris Johnson and his government.
“Michael Gove recently admitted that no-deal is not what he campaigned for in 2016 but now he’s willing to tear up our democratic system to force this outcome on the country, against the wishes of both parliament and the public.
“The Brexiters in government like to cloak themselves in the language of democracy, but they willingly ignore basic democratic principles as and when it suits them.”
Starmer said MPs had a “very simple plan” to block no-deal.
Also speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, he said: “The legislation is intended to ensure we don’t leave without a deal, that will require an extension.
“The length of the extension is secondary, frankly. We have simply got to stop us leaving without a deal.”
He added: “The route will be by legislation because I believe there has got to be legislation in place to lock this and it unlawful for him to take us out without a deal.
“It is a very simple plan.”
Gove was also pressed on whether there would be shortages of fresh food as a result of a no-deal Brexit,
He said “everyone will have the food they need”, and added: “No, there will be no shortages of fresh food.”
Asked if food prices would increase, Gove appeared to concede they could.
He said: “I think that there are a number of economic factors in play.
“Some prices may go up. Other prices will come down.”