Michael Gove has warned Boris Johnson that parliament should be given a veto over a no-deal Brexit.
In a clear attempt to woo moderate Tory backbenchers in the leadership race, the environment secretary said that MPs would have to be given a clear say over any move as “momentous” as quitting the EU without an agreement with Brussels.
And in contrast to Johnson’s vow to deliver Brexit ‘with our without a deal’ by October 31, Gove also praised Commons Speaker Bercow for his defence of parliament’s right to stand up to the government.
Both Johnson and Dominic Raab have refused to rule out effectively closing down Westminster through ‘prorogueing’ Parliament.
And foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt on Monday attacked John Bercow, saying he disagreed “with the way he used his office to further his agenda”.
But at a hustings meeting organised at Westminster, Gove defended Bercow amid claims that the Speaker could allow emergency procedures to stop any attempt to “run down the clock” to a no-deal exit.
“Ultimately we live in a parliamentary democracy and we argued in that campaign that we wanted to strengthen not weaken parliament,” he said.
“Believe that if we are going to leave without a deal you need to persuade parliament that is the right course of action.”
“The Speaker ... will always seek to uphold the rights of parliament. I think it would be a mistake for any prime minister to say they were doing something as momentous and potentially as liberating as leaving the EU without parliament in our parliamentary democracy having agreed that the prime minister is doing the right thing.”
Rory Stewart said that he believed there were 100 Tory MPs prepared to join Labour in blocking no-deal.
“A Speaker who was prepared to be inventive to break precedent, and shift the constitution on a no-deal Brexit can do it almost any which way,” he said.
“They can allow amendments on bills that weren’t previously amendable, they can convene the House, they can conspire to take control of the order paper, they can do any number of things.”
Last week Labour failed by 11 votes to block a no-deal Brexit by setting aside a specific day where Parliament takes control of its own affairs.
But MPs have not given up and this weekend Hilary Benn, chair of the Brexit select committee, said that emergency debates - known as ‘Standing Order 24’ debates - could be used as a means to allow the Commons to intervene on Brexit.
Speaker Bercow earlier this year hinted that he would allow such motions to be amendable, whereas conventionally they are simply ‘neutral’ and as a result non-binding.
Benn told BBC Radio 4’s The Week in Westminster: “I think that is a possibility. And certainly one of the things that I have in mind.”