Rebel MPs are exploring ways to seize control of the agenda fromBoris Johnsonby allowing parliament to debate and vote on Brexit legislation and a second referendum possibly as soon as next week. ******
Several MPs told the Guardian this was a plan under consideration if Johnson persisted with his insistence that his withdrawal agreement bill was “paused” until MPs agree to an election on 12 December.
Under the plans, which have beenworked on since the summerby supporters of a second referendum and soft Brexit, MPs would again try to use procedure under standing order 24 to take control of the timetable in parliament.
They would then attempt to introduce either Johnson’sBrexitdeal or Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, with possible votes on adding a customs union, second referendum and extending transition to prevent departure on World Trade Organization terms.
It is understood some MPs have been discussing the plans with former EU officials to determine whether it could be enough to demonstrate to Brussels that parliament was serious about using an extension to break the Brexit deadlock.
Johnson was still insisting on Friday that he would refuse to bring back his Brexit legislation unless MPs granted him a general election on Monday. He called on Jeremy Corbyn, the Labor leader, to “man up” and vote for one, claiming that parliament would only engage in “pointless Brexitology” if given the chance to debate his legislation without a hard deadline. Sajid Javid, the chancellor, claimed the government would simply lay motions “again and again” until other parties agree to go to the polls.
However, Corbyn made clear he would only vote for an election if Johnson made “absolutely clear” to parliament on Monday that there would be no crash-out on WTO terms, because “his deal includes the possibility of a no -deal exit ”. ******
Johnson is unlikely to remove the threat of a no-deal exit to Corbyn’s satisfaction because the EU will not formally decide the length of the Brexit extension requested by the UK until early next week. During a meeting of EU diplomats, the French ambassador stood alone in arguing that it was not the right time to agree a three-month delay, in a move that will be welcomed in Downing Street.
If the EU ultimately grants a three-month delay and Labor continues to refuse an election, Johnson might not be able to stop the withdrawal agreement being revived by backbenchers. The decision would rest withJohn Bercow, the Speaker,who could allow it to be “unpaused” by MPs as one of his last acts after a decade in the chair.
Labor MP Peter Kyle said he was in talks with ex-Tories about their next steps. Bringing the agreement back to parliament was “one of the options on the shelf” and “credible”. Kyle said they had done all the preparatory work for this scenario in the summer and were ready to go with such a parliamentary move if needed, but wanted to see what the government and Corbyn did in the next few days.
He said he did not believeJohnson’s threat that no Brexit legislationwould be brought back to the Commons between now and Christmas, so backbenchers might not need to try and bring back the bill themselves but could amend his deal.
Support for a second referendum “ebbs and flows”, Kyle said, but that presently “the tide is coming back on it” among MPs.
Dominic Grieve, the former Torywho has led the battle against no-deal Brexit, said MPs bringing back the withdrawal bill with the aim of attaching a second referendum was “within the field of options”, but any attempt by backbenchers to bring in primary legislation would be full of procedural hurdles. The legislation would need a money resolution moved by the government, though MPs could hope simply to show progress on finding a majority for any one Brexit option.
Grieve said: “Politics is the art of the possible and clearly it’s been my argument for a long time that it would be desirable to have a second referendum and put the options available to the public to resolve the problems we have . ”
Others expressed scepticism that such a move would work. Nick Boles, a former Tory minister who voted for Johnson’s deal, tweeted: “There is no such plan. And it wouldn’t work, as taking a bill of this scale into committee requires a money resolution and Queen’s consent, which only the government can provide. ”
Even Conservative supporters of Johnson remained baffled on Friday by the prime minister’s sudden U-turn on his Brexit deal earlier in the week, when he decided to pause it rather than allow more time to debate the legislation.
One minister told the Guardian that the views among colleagues was “No 10 has been churlish ”, while a backbench MP said the strategy emerging from Downing Street was“ very confused ”and“ out of control ”.
Keith Simpson, Conservative MP for Broadland, described the “floundering in No 10 as worthy of Baldrick in Blackadder ”, adding:“ The problem is that circumstances beyond [Johnson’s] control and things he has done has made 31 October almost impossible and I think what he’s decided to do – supported by most, but not all of the cabinet – of trying to have a vote on a general election looks as though it’s part of the people versus parliament but I think it’s quite a risky strategy. ”