Most Tory Rebels Will Not Back Plans To Force A Brexit Delay Within Days

The majority of rebels who backed the Benn Act will not support opposition attempts to force an Article 50 extension within days, HuffPost understands.

Many of the Tory rebels sacked from the party for voting to block a no-deal Brexit will not support any attempt to accelerate laws which will force Boris Johnson to seek an Article 50 extension, HuffPost UK understands.

Opposition parties met on Monday to discuss plans to tighten up laws designed to block a no-deal Brexit on October 31 by forcing the prime minister to ask for a Brexit delay as early as this weekend.

Acting alongside Tory rebels, they have already passed the so-called Benn Act, which gives the prime minister until October 19 to get a deal agreed with the EU and MPs, or be forced to request an Article 50 extension.

Prior to the meeting, HuffPost UK understood that the group of opposition parties would not get the support of many of the Tory rebels who helped pass the Benn bill in the first place and were punished by having the party whip removed.

At least around 16-18 of the rebels want to give Johnson the chance to go to the October 17-18 European Council summit and negotiate a new withdrawal agreement, although they are pessimistic about his chances of doing so.

Following Monday’s meeting, opposition parties did not agree to pursue either Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson’s proposals to pass laws forcing Johnson to request an Article 50 extension by the weekend, or a vote of no confidence in Johnson’s government.

Some on the opposition side had voiced concern there was not enough time to take action through the courts if Johnson tries to sidestep the Benn legislation.

Swinson again urged Corbyn to agree to stand aside in favour of a unity candidate to lead an emergency government to block no deal.

Meanwhile, the group of opposition leaders agreed to back an SNP-led bid for an emergency debate to get the government to publish documents on no-deal Brexit planning, but it was refused by Commons Speaker John Bercow.

Asked if any firm plans were agreed, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said: “There were lots of discussions about the next steps and you won’t be surprised that I’m not going to put those out publicly, but yes it was a completely united meeting and absolutely clear that we will explore the next steps that do need to be taken to make sure that we do not drop out without a deal.”

Former cabinet ministers David Gauke (left) and Philip Hammond (right) are leading members of the Tory rebel group who had the party whip removed.
Former cabinet ministers David Gauke (left) and Philip Hammond (right) are leading members of the Tory rebel group who had the party whip removed.
PA Archive/PA Images

The opposition parties met as the Tories hold their party conference in Manchester.

Backbenchers and those without important speeches or events have been slipped from the conference by party whips and told to be available for parliamentary votes to head off any attempted opposition ambush.

Solicitor General Michael Ellis meanwhile told a conference fringe event that he was on “red standby” to dash back to Westminster, warning attendees he could “dematerialise” from the conference at any moment.

It came as one of the Tory rebels, former justice secretary David Gauke, said he was convinced that Britain would not leave the EU on October 31.

Writing for Conservative Home, Gauke said the Benn Act was “very clear” and doubted suggestions that the PM might find a way to circumvent it and push through a no-deal Brexit by October 31.

Gauke wrote: “In the course of this week, ministers will be repeatedly asked what will happen. Will the government abide by the law? Yes, of course. Will the government seek an extension? No.

“The answers to these questions are mutually incompatible.

“The government will seek to get away with this contradiction by hinting that there is a cunning plan, a secret flaw that only it knows about, something that only a strategic genius – who could turn his mind to legal matters as and when necessary – would be able to identify.

“Pin your hopes on that if you like, but my money would be on the UK being members of the EU on November 1.”

Dominic Grieve, meanwhile, told a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester that Number 10 was attempting to spread “disinformation” in order to split the rebel alliance.

Hitting out at ”Maoist right winger” Dominic Cummings, he said Johnson’s chief of staff was “taking a sledgehammer” to constitutional traditions and was behind “corruption of our political system”.

He said: “I do worry that the closer we have got to October 31 the more the present prime minister has departed from every conceivable Conservative principle in order to ratchet up the rhetoric, and he is now employing as his chief of staff a sort of Maoist right winger, with a belief in destruction of politics which is so out of keeping with our party’s tradition as to be frankly astonishing.”


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