Political and legal challenges to prime minister as he announces plans to ‘step up the tempo’ on Brexit
Boris Johnson is facing a mounting political and legal challenge to his efforts to shut down parliament and force Brexit through, with opponents increasingly confident that they have the numbers to block a no-deal outcome in the Commons.
The prime minister declared his intention to “step up the tempo” in the hunt for a Brexit deal with the EU, revealing that UK officials will meet their counterparts in Brussels twice a week throughout September while MPs are locked out of Westminster.
But he was confronted by a growing backlash to his decision to ask the Queen to suspend Commons sittings for five weeks in the run-up to the Brexit deadline of 31 October, with a string of senior Tories speaking out in protest and more than 1.5 million voters signing a petition against the move.
Three legal actions were under way, with the High Court in London considering an application from campaigner Gina Miller to challenge the PM’s use of prorogation and the Court of Session in Edinburgh due to rule on Friday on a petition from more than 70 cross-party parliamentarians seeking to prevent an “abusive” and “unconstitutional” use of government powers.
Tory grandee Lord Young of Cookham became the first minister to quit Mr Johnson’s administration, declaring himself “very unhappy” with the prorogation move, while Ruth Davidson – who has clashed with the PM over no deal – stepped down as leader of the Scottish Conservatives.
And more than 20 other Tories went public to condemn the suspension of parliament, with Theresa May’s former deputy David Lidington saying he disagreed “very strongly” and ex-chancellor Kenneth Clarke warning that Johnson had “given in to the fanatic element”. Former justice secretary David Gauke said it appeared to be part of a “deliberate strategy” to make the Brexit debate angrier and more divisive.
Opposition leaders have demanded that Mr Johnson reverse his decision to suspend parliament or put it to a Commons vote.
In a joint statement from Labour, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, The Independent Group for Change and the Green Party, the leaders said: “It is our view that there is a majority in the House of Commons that does not support this prorogation, and we demand that the prime minister reverses this decision immediately or allows MPs to vote on whether there should be one.”
The statement went on to say that “there is no mandate from the public for a damaging no-deal Brexit” and “voters are being deprived of the opportunity to have their representatives hold the government to account”.
Sources close to cross-party conversations on stopping a no-deal Brexit said the suspension of parliament had “galvanised” MPs, who are now confident of securing a majority if a vote can be forced and are focusing on the parliamentary tactics to achieve this.
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But they acknowledged time was tight, with the session due to end as early as 9 September. Proposals are being developed to enable the House to sit into the evenings and through the weekend to maximise the time available before Mr Johnson shuts the doors.
Jeremy Corbyn said opposition parties were “working together to do everything we can” to pass legislation rapidly next week.
“What we are going to do is try to politically stop him on Tuesday with a parliamentary process in order to legislate to prevent a no-deal Brexit and also to try and prevent him shutting down parliament in this utterly crucial period,” said the Labour leader.