Rebel MPs are planning to force parliament to sit through next weekend in an emergency bid to carve out more time to block Boris Johnson from ramming through a no-deal Brexit.
In a swift counter-attack on the PM’s decision to suspend the Commons and Lords, backbenchers are looking at the option of keeping Westminster open from Friday to Monday to allow the successful passage of an ‘EU extension bill’.
The Commons has convened on a Saturday on just four times since 1939. MPs met at the weekend at the outbreak of World War II and during the Suez crisis of 1956 and Argentina’s Falklands invasion of 1982. It has sat on a Sunday just once since 1900.
The prospect of Brexiteer peers trying to delay and ‘talk out’ the anti-no-deal legislation is seen as a major obstacle by Johnson’s opponents.
The extension bill, whose details are subject to intense secrecy, aims to force Johnson to seek an extension to the UK’s membership of the EU beyond October 31, making any exit conditional on a deal with Brussels.
But Downing Street’s move to suspend, or ‘prorogue’, parliament on Wednesday means that MPs have just a handful of days to pass the unprecedented legislation in all its stages through the Commons and Lords.
The Commons is due to sit for just three days next week before rising on Thursday.
On current plans, MPs return on Monday 9th September. But rebels now know that on that day parliament may be suspended by the government and then won’t return until October 14.
The House of Lords, where some of the most intense opposition to any extension bill is expected, will sit next Friday but again is not due to work through the weekend.
Former Tory minister and independent MP Nick Boles told HuffPost UK he would support moves to keep parliament open to allow as much time as possible.
“It’s also important that the Lords also sits as that’s where we are more likely to run out of time,” he said.
The House of Lords could well be the crucible for the Brexit confrontation next week.
When Yvette Cooper’s short bill preventing a no-deal Brexit in April was passed earlier this year, pro-Leave Tory peers like former leader Michael Howard ‘filibustered’ debate in a bid to delay it.
The peers eventually backed off and the legislation passed, but this time they are expected to dig in and do everything to kill the new bill.
Unlike the Commons, the Lords does not set a time-limit or ‘guillotine’ on debates and relies on the goodwill of members not to talk excessively.
A change in Lords standing orders would be needed to cut short any debate and many peers are reluctant to do so. The alternative of sitting continuously through the weekend to exhaust the Brexiteer peers is one option.
The Commons used to sit regularly on Saturdays until the mid-19th century. But it has only sat on a tiny number of occasions since the war.
A ‘weekend sittings motion’ is one option being looked at, as rebels bid to seize control of the timetable of the Commons next Tuesday with the help of Commons speaker John Bercow.
Bercow said on Wednesday that Johnson’s move to suspend parliament was a ‘constitutional outrage’, but Lords Speaker Lord Fowler may take a very different view.
No.10 has ‘wargamed’ a range of scenarios for coming weeks as the PM tries to get his Queen’s Speech through parliament while getting Brexit delivered on October 31.
A Downing Street source hit back at the plan. “The moves by Dominic Grieve and Jeremy Corbyn to cancel the referendum result through legislation are anti-democratic.
“The PM has been clear we will be leaving on October 31st, no ifs, no buts. It is perverse that some MPs would attempt these parliamentary shenanigans just as we are actually seeing progress to deliver Brexit.”