Boris Johnson gathers Cabinet in frantic hunt for a way out of Remainer trap
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Boris Johnson gathered Cabinet for crisis talks today as he frantically hunts for a way out of the Remainer trap.
Senior ministers assembled in No10 after the PM suffered his latest disastrous defeat in the Commons – with MPs refusing his plea for a snap election.
The huge setback came just hours before Parliament was suspended until mid-October in extraordinary scenes, with Remainers staging protests and the Speaker condemning the move.
Labour is now threatening to delay an election until well into December in a bid to destroy Mr Johnson’s ‘do or die’ vow to deliver Brexit by October 31.
A rebel law passed by MPs and peers means he must beg Brussels for an extension if he has not sealed an agreement by October 19 – something he has said he will never do.
Mr Johnson seemingly ruled out resigning over the next few weeks last night as he raged at ‘yellow belly’ Jeremy Corbyn for blocking an election, saying he would go to a crunch EU summit on October 17 and try to reach an agreement in the ‘national interest’.
Senior ministers assembled in No10 after Boris Johnson (pictured in Westminster today) suffered his latest disastrous defeat in the Commons
New Cabinet minister Therese Coffey (left), Liz Truss (centre) and Boris Johnson’s PPS Alex Burghart (right) were all in No10 for the crisis talks today
Maverick Brexit adviser Dominic Cummings (left) was back in Downing Street today as the wargaming continued. Jacob Rees-Mogg (right) was among the ministers at Cabinet
Dominic Raab and Gavin Wiliamson were at the Cabinet meeting in Downing Street today
Jeremy Corbyn (pictured speaking at the TUC conference today) is threatening to delay an election until well into December in a bid to destroy Mr Johnson’s ‘do or die’ vow to deliver Brexit by October 31
In an apparent sign that Mr Johnson is running out of ideas, there is mounting speculation that he could try to revive the Northern Ireland-only backstop proposed by the EU nearly three years ago.
That was dismissed by Theresa May as a solution no UK PM could ever accept as it risked splitting the union, and would be fiercely opposed by the DUP – whose leader Arlene Foster is heading to London to meet Mr Johnson later.
What happens next in the Brexit crisis?
Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn are drawing battle lines for an election after Parliament was prorogued last night.
But the poll might not be triggered for at least another month – and the date of the ballot is likely to be well into December.
Here is how the coming weeks could pan out:
September 14-18: Lib Dem conference takes place in Bournemouth
September 21-25: Labour conference in Brighton
September 28-October 2: Tory conference takes place in Manchester, with Mr Johnson giving his first keynote speech as leader on the final day. This will be a crucial waypointer on how Brexit talks are going.
October 14: Parliament is due to return with the Queen’s Speech – the day before Mr Johnson had hoped to hold a snap election.
October 17-18: A crunch EU summit in Brussels, where Mr Johnson has vowed he will try to get a Brexit deal despite Remainers ‘wrecking’ his negotiating position.
October 19: If there is no Brexit deal by this date Remainer legislation obliges the PM to beg the EU for an extension to avoid No Deal.
October 21: Decisive votes on the Queen’s Speech, which could pave the way for a confidence vote.
October 31: The current deadline for the UK to leave the EU.
November/December: An election looks inevitable, but Labour is hinting it might push the date back towards Christmas to humiliate the PM.
However, it could allow the rest of the UK to strike a looser Canada-style trade agreement with the EU, while ensuring there would be no hard border on the island of Ireland.
Mrs Foster flatly rejected the prospect ahead of her talks today, telling Sky News: ‘What we’re focused on is about getting a deal that works for the whole of the UK, one that works for Northern Ireland, one that does not have Northern Ireland hived off into a different customs union than the rest of the UK, breaking up the single market of the UK.
‘That would be unheard off. To think that any United Kingdom prime minister would be involved in that sort of thing would just be an anathema.
‘Jeremy Corbyn has said that in the past, our own prime minister has said that. So I think all of this speculation is very wide of the mark.’
Downing Street also insisted a Northern Ireland-only was not under consideration.
No10 said the PM began Cabinet by updating ministers on his ‘constructive discussions’ with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Dublin yesterday.
‘The Prime Minister then led a discussion on the government’s priorities for the autumn,’ the spokesman said.
‘The PM said he would lead a One Nation government which would respect the result of the referendum by leaving the European Union on October 31 while energetically focusing on the NHS, tackling violent crime, education and the cost of living.’
It is understood that Mr Johnson condemned claims the government was extreme, telling ministers that he was the ‘most liberal Conservative PM in decades’.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock interrupted to make a joke about the rather more hardline sensibilities of Home Secretary Priti Patel, saying: ‘Don’t tell Priti.’
But sources said Ms Patel took the remark in good heart, and the exchanges were ‘good-natured’.
Meanwhile, a YouGov poll today underlined the premier’s dilemma. It found 52 per cent of Leave voters want him simply to break the Remainer law against No Deal.
But the wider public say he should instead ask for an extension, by 50 per cent to 28 per cent.
After the bruising result in the Commons in early hours of this morning, Mr Johnson vowed that he will defy the ‘device’ of the new Remainer law against No Deal and stick to his ‘do or die’ vow to get the UK out by October 31.
Mr Johnson said opposition parties had decided they ‘know better’ than the public. He insisted he would go to an EU summit on October 17 and ‘strive to get an agreement in the national interest… this government will not delay Brexit any further’.
The brutal attack came as Mr Johnson again failed to gain enough support in the Commons for a snap poll. He fell well short of the required two-thirds of MPs – 434 – with backing from just 293.
It was the sixth full division in a row that the PM had lost, as he endures a baptism of fire.
Attorney General Geoffrey Cox and Liz Truss seemed in good spirits as the arrived for the Cabinet meeting today
Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers arrived for the crisis Cabinet meeting this morning
Alok Sharma (left), and Mat Hancock and Nicky Morgan (right) were also present for the Cabinet discussions today
Parliament is now prorogued until mid-October – meaning a national vote is highly unlikely to happen before mid-November.
The prorogation ceremony itself bore witness to some of the most extraordinary Commons scenes of recent times, with Opposition MPs gathering by the Speaker’s chair to hold up signs reading ‘silenced’ and one new MP apparently throwing himself across the Speaker’s lap to prevent him rising.
Mr Johnson is scrambling to find a way of sidestepping rebel legislation ordering him to beg the EU for an extension if no agreement has been agreed by October 19 – something he has described as a ‘surrender’.
And in a stark message after the election vote he said: ‘No matter how many devices this Parliament invents to tie my hands I will try to get an agreement in the national interest…
‘This Government will not allow Brexit to be delayed any further. While the opposition run, they cannot hide forever.’
Labour declared class war on Mr Johnson today as Mr Corbyn accused him of wanting Brexit for his ‘rich friends’.
The Labour leader played down claims he was ‘yellow’ for blocking the PM’s call for a snap election – saying he would not back a poll on ‘Johnson’s terms’.
Meanwhile, the party’s union paymaster Len McCluskey ramped up the rhetoric even further by raging that the ‘workers are coming for you’ in an extraordinary rant at the TUC conference in Brighton.
Addressing the conference this morning, the Labour leader said an election was ‘coming’.
‘No-one can trust the word of a Prime Minister who is threatening to break the law to force through no-deal,’ he said.
‘So a general election is coming. But we won’t allow Johnson to dictate the terms.
‘And I can tell you this: we’re ready for that election. We’re ready to unleash the biggest people-powered campaign we’ve ever seen.’
Lambasting the ‘born-to-rule establishment’ represented by Mr Johnson, he said Labour would fight for ‘the overwhelming majority who do the work and pay their taxes – not the few at the top who hoard the wealth and dodge their taxes’.
The party would boost trade union membership and appoint a Secretary of State for Employment Rights, he said.
Mr Corbyn said: ‘Johnson’s reckless no-deal would destroy jobs, push up food prices in the shops and cause shortages of everyday medicines that people rely on.
Will Brexit be delayed? And when WILL an election happen? PM faces a frantic FIVE WEEKS to find a deal after he fails to trigger an early vote and suspends Parliament
Boris Johnson faces five weeks of frantic manoeuvring to find a solution to the Brexit impasse after he was unable to trigger an early general election and suspended Parliament.
The Prime Minister failed to secure enough support to trigger a snap poll last night as he was thwarted by opposition MPs for the second time in the space of a week.
He responded by following through on his decision to send MPs home for most of September and the start of October.
It means that while the PM may have lost the battle he will still be hopeful of winning the war.
He will now shift his attention to trying to secure a deal with Brussels and finding a way to deliver on his ‘do or die’ promise to take Britain out of the EU with or without a deal on October 31.
But will he be able to do it or has he been outflanked by Remainer MPs who passed an anti-No Deal law?
Here are the answers to all the key questions.
What happens now that Parliament has been suspended?
Mr Johnson last night prorogued Parliament, sending MPs home for five weeks.
The PM has repeatedly claimed that the decision to suspend Parliament is necessary to allow the new government to prepare its own raft of domestic legislation ahead of a Queen’s Speech on October 14 when those proposed laws will be set out.
Prorogation ahead of a Queen’s Speech is standard fare but the length of the suspension Mr Johnson has implemented has caused controversy.
Boris Johnson, pictured in the House of Commons last night, failed to persuade MPs to back an early election
Mr Johnson and Dominic Cummings, pictured in Whitehall today, will now turn their attentions to readying the Tories for an election which could happen in November or December
MPs are furious and believe the prorogation is actually about making it harder for them to scrutinise the government’s Brexit strategy – when they return to work there will be just two weeks until the October 31 deadline.
MPs will use the time to regroup and prepare for that final battle in the run up to Halloween to make sure the government complies with a law designed to prevent a No Deal Brexit.
The political parties will also use the time to prepare for a general election which will almost certainly take place in November or December.
Key to those preparations will be the party conferences due to take place in the coming weeks.
When and where are the party conferences?
The platforms on which the parties will fight the next election should become clear at each of their annual conferences.
The Lib Dems will meet in Bournemouth between September 14-17, Labour will convene in Brighton between September 21-25 and the Tories will meet in Manchester between September 29-October 2.
The conferences will be crucial for the respective leaders to galvanise support and motivate party activists for the grind of a general election campaign.
Meanwhile, the government is expected to step up its efforts in the coming weeks to secure a new Brexit agreement with Brussels while also continuing with its No Deal preparations.
A slew of domestic policy announcements is also likely as Mr Johnson and the Tories enter election campaign mode.
Can Boris Johnson ignore an anti-No Deal law?
The short answer is no. Number 10 will either have to find a way to work around it or face the consequences of breaking it.
Legal experts have dismissed suggestions that Mr Johnson could find a ‘loophole’ to avoid complying with the rebel legislation passed by Parliament.
The law, which made it onto the statute book yesterday, will force the PM to ask the EU for a Brexit delay if no agreement has been struck by the two sides in the run up to Halloween.
The legislation will require him to send a letter to Brussels asking for the departure date to be pushed back to January 31.
But Mr Johnson has repeatedly said he will not ask for a delay in any circumstances putting him on a collision course with Parliament and potentially the courts.
He is reportedly considering a plan to send another letter – along with the legally required one – stating that the UK does not actually want an extension.
Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour MPs abstained on last night’s election vote. He will only back an early election once a Brexit delay has been agreed with Brussels
However, former Supreme Court justice Lord Sumption suggested such a move would be illegal.
He said: ‘Not only has he got to send the letter, he’s got to apply for an extension. To send the letter and then try to neutralise it seems to me, plainly, a breach of the Act.
‘What you’ve got to realise is the courts are not very fond of loopholes.’
Lord Sumption also suggested that if Mr Johnson were to refuse to send the legally required letter the Supreme Court could order a civil servant to sign one and send it on the PM’s behalf.
Should Mr Johnson fail to comply with the law he could risk a jail sentence, according to legal experts.
Will there be an election before Halloween?
No. The PM wanted there to be a snap poll on October 15 but opposition leaders joined forces and last night MPs refused to back him in sufficiently large numbers to trigger an election.
The Fixed-term Parliaments Act states that two thirds of MPs must vote for an election in order for it to happen.
Mr Johnson has fallen far short of the magic number of 434 MPs on both of his attempts to go to the country early.
The opposition have said they will only support an early election once a Brexit delay has been agreed with Brussels.
Assuming an extension is signed off the two thirds of support needed for an election should then materialise in the House of Commons.
But the delay will not be agreed – if it is agreed at all – before an EU summit on October 17 which puts the UK on course for an election in November or December.
That’s because general elections take time: When one is called the law states there must be a 25 day campaign period.
Is there another way for the government to force a pre-October 31 election?
No. Now that Mr Johnson has suspended Parliament he has no way of triggering a snap poll before Halloween.
There had been speculation that the government could try to get round the Fixed-term Parliaments Act by bringing forward a new law setting the date for an election.
That would have required a simple majority to succeed rather than the more taxing two thirds majority needed under FTPA.
But ultimately the government opted to cut its losses and beat a tactical retreat.
Number 10 will have been wary that a new election law could have been hijacked by Remainer MPs through the amendments process, with rebels potentially trying to change the election date or adding something even more significant.
Downing Street decided not to risk it.
Is the government still trying to get a deal by October 31?
Yes. But there is a major row over just how hard Downing Street is pushing for a deal.
Amber Rudd, who quit the government on Saturday night, said on Sunday that she believed 90 per cent of Whitehall’s Brexit efforts were now focused on preparing for a No Deal divorce.
But Number 10 is insistent that its primary goal remains Britain leaving with a deal.
However, talks with the EU remain locked in a state of stalemate with the main stumbling block being the Irish border backstop.
Mr Johnson said he will not sign up to any Brexit deal that contains the protocol and the EU has said it is open to listening to the UK’s proposed alternatives to the insurance policy.
But Mr Johnson is yet to set out in public any concrete plans for how the backstop could be deleted.
Many in the government believe that Brussels will only budge at the eleventh hour which could make for a high stakes game of brinkmanship as the Brexit deadline approaches.
If the EU and UK cannot agree a deal before October 31, could they agree one after that?
Assuming they do agree an extension and there is then an election or a second referendum, potentially.
A new prime minister, or the current one, with a big majority would open up new possibilities in the talks with Brussels and could pave the way for a deal being done.
Will the EU agree to delay Brexit again?
Brussels has long maintained that it is open to pushing back the UK’s departure date but only if it is for a very good reason: A general election or second referendum.
The EU does not want the Brexit stalemate to continue indefinitely and a major democratic event is viewed as potentially the only way to get things moving.
However, the EU will not want to be blamed for a No Deal Brexit – particularly the damage that it could do to the Irish economy – which means when it comes to the crunch the bloc is expected to offer a delay, regardless of the situation.
Amber Rudd, pictured arriving at the BBC on Sunday, resigned from the government on Saturday night over its Brexit strategy
But nothing is guaranteed.
Does Amber Rudd’s resignation matter and will other ministers quit?
It matters in the sense that it sent a powerful message to Mr Johnson over the direction of the government and the Conservative Party.
But it is unlikely to have lasting repercussions – after all, she becomes the 22nd Tory MP to leave the government benches in the space of a week.
Ms Rudd’s opposition to No Deal was well known which is why her decision to join Mr Johnson’s Cabinet when he took office raised so many eyebrows.
There are a handful of other ministers who are similarly concerned about the prospect of a chaotic split and could quit. They include Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith and Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan.
However, now that Parliament has been suspended and Westminster has entered the calm period before the expected storm the chances of more resignations is much lower.
If they were going to quit they probably would have already done it.