Former prime minister Sir John Major has said he fears Boris Johnson could use “political chicanery” and act “in flagrant defiance of parliament” in order to leave the EU on the 31 October without a deal.
Earlier this month, the so-called Benn Act was fast-tracked through parliament in a bid to prevent the government from forcing through a no-deal Brexit.
But senior cabinet ministers have already suggested Johnson will try to find a legal loophole to forge ahead regardless – and Major thinks he might know how he would do it.
He said: “My fear is that the government will seek to bypass [the legislation], by passing an Order of Council to suspend the Act until after 31 October.”
An Order of Council (not to be confused with an Order in Council) is a specific way of creating a law without the personal approval of the Queen.
Instead, members of the Privy Council, former and current Senior parliamentarians and members of the civil service, can pass laws and bypass the monarch.
Major suggested this legal mechanism could be used to suspend the law prohibiting a no-deal Brexit until after October 31, by which time it would be redundant as the UK would have already left the EU.
He added: “I should warn the prime minister that – if this route is taken – it will be in flagrant defiance of parliament and utterly disrespectful to the Supreme Court.
“It would be a piece of political chicanery that no-one should ever forgive or forget.”
Use of an Order in Council to suspend an Act of Parliament would likely be illegal for the same reason that the Supreme Court just found the prorogation of Parliament unlawful: because it would infringe the sovereignty of parliament.
Downing Street has so far refused to explain how Johnson could both guarantee a Halloween Brexit and also comply with the law.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, a former government lawyer, has claimed the legislation is “deeply, deeply flawed” and ministers are examining the “precise implications” of it.
Major’s latest comments come just days after he demanded the PM apologise for his behaviour after the Supreme Court ruled his suspension of Parliament was unlawful.
In a stinging comment aimed at one of his successors, Major said: “No prime minister must ever treat the monarch or Parliament in this way again.”
Major also laid out his view on the current political climate in the UK, following the furious scenes in the Commons on Wednesday night when Johnson was accused of stoking violence around Brexit.
He said: “At the moment, our country is more unsettled, more divided, than I can ever recall.
“Far more is at stake than simply our relationship with the European Union. At stake also is our relationship with the wider world and – because of the nature of our Brexit debate – very probably the future of our domestic politics as well.
“I don’t believe, after the schism Brexit has created, that we will be able to return to the status quo ante.”