Brexit: Tory MPs warned not to rebel against government

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Conservative MPs have been warned not to rebel against the government as opposition MPs plan a law to stop a no-deal Brexit.

A senior source from the whips office – which ensures MPs vote in line with the party – said rebels would “destroy” their Brexit negotiating position.

Rebels will have the whip withdrawn and be deselected, the source said.

It comes as Labour’s shadow cabinet is to meet on Monday to finalise plans aimed at stopping no deal.

The UK is due to leave the EU on 31 October, with or without a deal.

On Sunday, shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said MPs who want to stop no deal will this week seek to bring forward legislation against it in Parliament.

Specific details are expected to be outlined on Tuesday.

However, cabinet minister Michael Gove refused to guarantee the government would abide by it if it passed, saying: “Let’s see what the legislation says.”

‘A simple choice’

On Sunday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson discussed with his whips plans for dealing with potential rebels.

The senior Conservative whips office source said if Tory MPs “fail to vote with the government on Tuesday they will be destroying the government’s negotiating position and handing control of Parliament to Jeremy Corbyn”.

“Any Conservative MP who does this will have the whip withdrawn and will not stand as Conservative candidates in an election.”

Rebelling will be classed as voting against the government or abstaining.

There is a chance of a deal on 17 October – the date of the next EU summit – “only because Brussels realises the prime minister is totally committed to leaving on 31 October”, the source said.

“All MPs face a simple choice on Tuesday – to vote with the government and preserve the chance of a deal or vote with Corbyn and destroy any chance of a deal.”

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Jeremy Corbyn will use a speech on Monday to say Labour is doing “everything necessary to pull our country back from the brink”

The Conservative Party has a majority of just one, including the DUP, so if any Tory MP has the whip withdrawn they will go into a minority government.

On Saturday, former chancellor Philip Hammond said it would be “staggeringly hypocritical” for the government to sack Conservative MPs who rebel over its Brexit plans.

Mr Hammond said eight current cabinet members had themselves defied the party whip this year by voting against former prime minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

Mr Johnson had been due to meet Tory MPs pushing to rule out a no-deal Brexit on Monday, but a source close to the group said the prime minister called off the meeting with no explanation.

A one-to-one meeting with Mr Hammond was offered, but he is understood to have declined it on the basis that he does not speak for the group and they have a range of points to make.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn will use a speech on Monday to say Labour is doing “everything necessary to pull our country back from the brink”.

He will call the prime minister’s plans to shut down, or prorogue, Parliament “an attack on democracy which will be resisted”.

Mr Johnson has said he asked for the suspension in order to hold a Queen’s Speech – which sets out a list of laws the government hopes to get approved by Parliament – on 14 October.

But Labour says the suspension is to force through a no-deal Brexit.


What could happen next week?

Any new law has to pass all stages of both Houses of Parliament – this usually take weeks but could be done in as little as three days this week.

The bill could be challenged by the government and fall at any stage. It could fail to achieve enough support from either MPs or peers in votes held in the Houses.

  • Tuesday: MPs return to the Commons after their summer recess. Opposition MPs are expected to put forward legislation to stop no deal under “SO24” or Standing Order 24 – the rule allowing MPs to ask for a debate on a “specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration”. This would be the bill’s first reading – its formal introduction to the House.
  • Wednesday: In theory, the bill would then be debated and could potentially pass through all further Commons stages. However, the bill must pass through a series of votes and receive backing from more than half of MPs to pass to the next stage. Boris Johnson’s first PMQs as prime minister also takes place.
  • Thursday: If MPs passed the bill, it could then reach the House of Lords by Thursday, but consideration of the bill could spill into Monday. It will be debated and voted on. The House is not due to sit on Friday.
  • Monday, 9 September: If the bill passes these hurdles it could gain Royal Assent, formally making it law.

This could be a tight timetable as there are as few as four sitting days before Parliament is suspended. This is due to happen between Monday, 9 September, and Thursday, 12 September, under plans announced by the prime minister.

Another hurdle for any bill could come in the Lords. Although opponents to no deal have a large majority, peers wanting to block legislation could talk until there is no time left.


Elsewhere, former Labour prime minister Tony Blair will warn on Monday that a general election would be an “elephant trap” Labour must not fall into.

“It is counter-intuitive for opposition parties to refuse an election,” he will say in a speech.

“But in this exceptional case it is vital they do so, as a matter of principle, until Brexit is resolved.”

Mr Blair will add that Brexiteers are “laying a trap, to seem as if pushed into an election against their will, when they’re actively preparing for it”.

An early election can be held if a motion is agreed by at least two-thirds of the House or Commons or if a motion of no confidence is passed and no alternative government is confirmed within 14 days.

Another ex-Labour PM, Gordon Brown, together with the GMB union, Hope Not Hate and food charity Sustain, has called on ministers to reveal plans to stop a food crisis in the event of no deal.

They have questioned the UK’s preparations to cope with food shortages and price rises.

On Sunday, Mr Gove said there would be no shortages of fresh food, adding that “some” food prices “may go up” and “other prices will come down” in a no-deal Brexit.