Top Tory Michael Gove prompted outrage today after he refused to rule out ignoring UK law to ram through a no-deal Brexit.
The Boris Johnson ally was condemned as “breathtaking” after he failed to guarantee the Prime Minister will obey a law blocking no-deal – which MPs are set to pass this week.
Labour warned it would be a “full-blown attack on our constitution” adding: “Boris Johnson has shown his contempt for our democracy and the British people.”
And Tory MP Guto Bebb branded the comments a “disgrace to our democracy”.
MPs will table a law against no-deal on Tuesday, and try to rush it through the Commons and Lords before Parliament is suspended in around 10 days’ time.
But reports have suggested the Tory government could take extreme steps to stop it, like refusing to grant the Bill Royal Assent.
And today, Cabinet Office minister Mr Gove – who is in charge of no-deal planning – failed to give a straight answer when asked four times if the government would abide by the law.
The first time, he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “Let’s see what the legislation says. You’re asking me about a pig in a poke. And I will wait to see what legislation the opposition may try to bring forward.”
The second time he was asked, he repeated: “We will see what the legislation says when it is put forward.
“For me the most important thing is to bear in mind actually, we already have legislation in place which an overwhelming majority of MPs voted for.
“We already have an EU Withdrawal Act, we already have the notice on Article 50 , the process by which we leave the EU.
“What [ Labour Brexit chief] Keir Starmer is trying to do now is to say you know the British people I said we would leave, I said in my manifesto we would leave, but now I actually think we won’t leave. That is a denial of democracy.”
Asked a third time what will happen if Mr Starmer passes a law that blocks no-deal, he said: “I don’t believe Keir Starmer will get legislation through to that effect.”
Asked a fourth time, he said: “Let’s see what the legislation is that he puts forward. I can’t comment on a Bill that Keir Starmer, for entirely understandable reasons, hasn’t yet published.”
Mr Gove’s comments – branded “simply astonishing” by UCL’s Constitution Unit – prompted swift fury.
Tory MP Guto Bebb said Mr Gove’s comments were “a disgrace to our democracy”, adding: “Not only are they suspending Parliament to try and force through a disastrous no-deal, but now they are suggesting that, even if Parliament passed a law requiring the Government to avoid no-deal, they might simply ignore it.
“Our very democracy is now under threat from Boris Johnson and his Government.”
Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer said: “For ministers not to confirm that this Government will accept and comply with legislation lawfully passed is breathtaking.
“The Prime Minister must make a statement on this straightaway. No Government is above the law.”
Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson said: “A powerful government representative refusing to confirm they’ll obey the legislative will of Parliament. Think about that for a moment.
“This is the UK. The correct answer is ‘we will always obey the will of Parliament’.”
Jon Trickett, Labour’s Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, said: “Boris Johnson has shown his contempt for our democracy and the British people. Any move to ignore an act of Parliament would be a full-blown attack on our constitution.
“It is staggering that in the same interview, Michael Gove admitted that the No Deal Brexit the government is attempting to ram through will hit people’s living standards with increased food prices.
“This is a price that Boris Johnson is willing to pay because it won’t be him and his wealthy friends paying it – but ordinary families already struggling after 9 years of austerity.
“It is the people, not an unelected Prime Minister in hock to the vested interests of the richest, who should determine our country’s future.”
Labour MP Hilary Benn, chairman of the Commons Brexit Committee, said: “It’s a very simple question so how can there be any doubt about the answer?
“The Government must abide by any legislation that is passed by Parliament.”
Legal commentator David Allen Green noted drily: “In which Michael Gove , a former Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, will not commit the government to complying with the rule of law.”
It comes after pro-EU Tory MPs hurled themselves into war with Boris Johnson by facing down his threat to cast them out of the party this week.
The Prime Minister is considering yanking away the Tory whip from more than a dozen rebels if they vote to block no-deal Brexit on Thursday.
But ringleader MP David Gauke today dared the PM to dump him – saying he’s ready to become an independent in the “national interest”.
Former Chancellor Philip Hammond said suspending the whip would be “staggeringly hypocritical” because “8 members of the current cabinet have defied the party whip this year.”
- September 3:Parliament returns after summer break. MPs’ chance to vote no confidence in government or block no-deal Brexit
- September 4:Chancellor announces Whitehall spending for 2020/21
- September 12:Parliament suspended
- September 22-25:Labour Party conference
- September 23-27:Boris Johnson speaks at UN General Assembly in this week and could visit the White House
- September 29 – October 2:Tory Party conference
- October 14:Parliament returns with Queen’s Speech – but is then snarled up in a week of debates
- October 17:European Council meeting. The last chance to get a Brexit deal with 27 EU leaders
- October 21-22:Votes on the Queen’s Speech
- Final week:Vote on any plan Boris Johnson gets for Brexit
- October 31:Brexit happens, with or without a deal
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The Prime Minister, who has a majority of one, faces defeat if the MPs can pass the law in the tiny period of time before he suspends Parliament for five weeks, from around September 12.
Tens of thousands took to streets across Britain yesterday to demand Mr Johnson stop the the month-long shutdown “coup”.
But any Tory MP who sides with opposition MPs and votes against no-deal could have the whip withdrawn, be suspended, and replaced with a Johnson loyalist candidate at the next election.
Mr Johnson refused to rule out the ‘nuclear option’, telling the Sunday Times: “I just say to everybody in the country, including everyone in parliament, the fundamental choice is this.
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“Are you going to side with Jeremy Corbyn and those who want to cancel the referendum?
“Are you going to side with those who want to scrub the democratic verdict of the people – and plunge this country into chaos?”
A Government spokesperson said: “All options for party management are under consideration.”
Mr Gove – the Tory in charge of no-deal planning – inflamed fears today as he admitted some food prices may go up in no-deal.
Insisting some food prices will also fall, the Cabinet Office minister told the BBC: “Everyone will have the food they need… There will be no shortages of fresh food.”
To read the full story on today’s Brexit developments click here.