MPs have launched a “last ditch” attempt to force Theresa May into a long Brexit delay to stop Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal in 10 days.
Labour’s Yvette Cooper and Tory Sir Oliver Letwin have published legislation which will force the prime minister to extend Article 50 beyond April 12 if it is passed.
But Letwin has abandoned plans for more indicative votes on alternatives to May’s beleaguered withdrawal agreement after MPs failed to agree a single option in the first two rounds of voting.
Instead, MPs will debate and vote on the anti-no deal legislation on Wednesday, after Letwin again seized control of parliamentary business from the government.
Commons Brexit committee chair Hilary Benn meanwhile will also ask MPs to approve an amendment which would pave the way for a third round of indicative votes on Monday.
Cooper and Letwin face a race against time to get it through parliament in time to force May to ask the EU for an extension before the emergency European Council summit next Wednesday April 10.
They plan to ram it through the Commons in one day on Wednesday and hope that peers in the Lords can pass it in time for early next week.
Once it is approved by both houses, May will “immediately” have to put before MPs a proposal to extend Article 50.
Letwin said: “This is a last-ditch attempt to prevent our country being exposed to the risks inherent in a no deal exit. We realise this is difficult. But it is definitely worth trying.”
Crucially, their bill will give May the responsibility for setting out the length of any extension, but MPs will then be able to amend the exit date.
If the EU suggests a different timescale, the PM will be forced to return to the Commons for another vote.
Cooper said: “We are now in a really dangerous situation, with a serious and growing risk of no-deal in 10 days’ time.
“The prime minister has a responsibility to prevent that happening. She needs to put forward a proposal, including saying how long an extension she thinks we need to sort things out.
“If the government won’t act urgently, then parliament has a responsibility to try to ensure that happens even though we are right up against the deadline.”
The former shadow home secretary said parliament had tried to “jam into two days a process of finding consensus that I wish the prime minister had started two years ago”.
“But right now nothing has been agreed,” she added.
“So that means that whatever happens in the next few days, the UK needs an extension beyond April 12 if we are to avoid the damage and chaos of no-deal.
“For the sake of jobs, public services and our national security we need to avert no-deal.”
Chris Leslie, the Independent Group MP, meanwhile said supporters of a customs union and a second referendum should come together and finally form a majority around a combination of both if indicative votes happen on Monday.
The bill’s publication comes as May holds a mammoth five-hour meeting of her cabinet to try and find a way through the logjam and as cabinet secretary and national security adviser Sir Mark Sedwill warned ministers about the likely consequences of a no-deal Brexit.
In a letter, obtained by the Daily Mail, he said no deal could lead to:
- A UK-only recession, meaning that the expected fall in the value of the pound will be “more harmful” than during the 2008 global crisis;
- A 10% spike in food prices;
- The collapse of some businesses that trade with the EU, with pressure on government to bail companies out;
- Disruption to national security and reduced law and order capabilities;
- Reintroduction of direct rule in Northern Ireland for the first time since 2007.