Monday, November 29

PM to MPs: Brexit not your choice



Boris Johnson has issued a fresh warning to MPs tempted to try to block a no-deal Brexit, with a senior government official insisting “politicians don’t get to choose which public votes they respect”.

Speaking in Biarritz, where Johnson met the European council president, Donald Tusk, on Sunday, the UK official said Johnson had delivered the message to EU leaders that Brexit cannot be stopped.

“The prime minister has been very clear to European leaders that he’s seen in the last week that the idea that Brexit can be stopped is incorrect, and we are leaving on 31 October,” the senior official said.

“He thinks that EU leaders should not be listening to the very wrong messages emerging from some parliamentarians who think that they will stop Brexit.”

He added: “The prime minister has been repeatedly clear that parliamentarians and politicians don’t get to choose which public votes they respect.”

Jeremy Corbyn is convening a meeting of opposition party leaders and rebel MPs on Tuesday in a bid to find a common approach to preventing Britain leaving the EU without a deal.

There are divisions over tactics among the rebels. The Labour leader hopes to win a vote of no confidence, and has then offered to lead a short-term caretaker government for the sole purpose of extending article 50 and calling a general election – in which Labour would argue for a referendum.

But the Liberal Democrat leader, Jo Swinson, has warned that Corbyn would be unlikely to command a majority in the House of Commons, and pointed to alternative candidates, including the veteran Tory MP and arch-remainer Ken Clarke.
In a letter to Corbyn on Monday, Swinson said: “We cannot allow party politics to stand in the way of finding a solution that works to prevent the national crisis approaching us.”

In Biarritz, Johnson has sought to stress the areas of agreement with Britain’s EU partners aside from Brexit – and to prevent himself from being portrayed as the poodle of the US president, Donald Trump.

The prime minister irked Tusk on Saturday by failing to bring any new concrete proposals to a meeting the pair held in the fringes of the summit. Before the prime minister arrived in Biarritz, Tusk had warned him against “going down in history as Mr No Deal”.

MPs hope to find some parliamentary procedure that will bind Johnson’s hands – perhaps by passing a law that would mandate him to request an extension to article 50, before the EU council due in mid-October.

But Downing Street believes that leaving without a deal remains the default legal position, and no further vote by parliamentarians is needed to approve it.

It emerged this weekend that No 10 had sought legal advice from the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, about the possibility of shutting down parliament from September.

Asked about the issue, a senior government official said: “No 10 commissions legal advice on a whole range of issues, but the PM is clear that he is not going to stop MPs debating Brexit.”

There has been little sign of progress on Brexit this weekend, despite Johnson’s insistence he would meet the “blistering” challenge set by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, of making a new deal within 30 days.

On Sunday, he said it was “touch and go” whether an agreement could be reached in time.

But “sherpas” – the senior UK and EU officials tasked with negotiations have been in regular communication, and will continue to discuss Brexit in the coming days.

Johnson’s sherpa is David Frost, who took over from May’s chief Brexit negotiator, Ollie Robbins, who was repeatedly accused by some Brexiters of being too accommodating to other European countries.