Tory ultras today insisted Boris Johnson could be a martyr to democracy’ if he flouts a rebel law demanding he delays Brexit.
Eurosceptics have been ramping up pressure on Mr Johnson – who is meeting Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar in Dublin this morning – to stick to his promise not to delay the UK’s departure.
Some suggested on a private WhatsApp group that he should simply ignore the legislation.
And Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen told MailOnline today that becoming a ‘martyr to democracy’ could be Mr Johnson’s only option.
‘Unfortunately democracy has an insatiable appetite for martyrs. He could end up being one of those – collateral damage,’ he said.
However, in the face of Cabinet resignation threats the PM has signalled to ministers he will not openly breach the legislation.
The PM is desperately scrabbling for a way of honouring his ‘do or die’ pledge to get Brexit done by October 31, after being cornered by an alliance of Labour, the Lib Dems, SNP and Tory rebels.
They have passed a Bill – which will formally be placed on the statute book today – ordering him to beg the EU for an extension if no agreement has been agreed by October 19.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn and his allies are expected to again block the premier from holding a snap election in a crunch vote tonight.
Ministers are hunting for a way out of the trap, with claims they could sidestep the Remainer law by sending the required letter asking for an extension, alongside another one demanding the bloc ignores the request.
However, Labour former Lord Chancellor Lord Charlie Falconer said that move could break the law – while ex-Cabinet minister David Gauke said the second letter would ‘carry no weight’.
Plaid Cymru leader Liz Saville Roberts said breaking the law should result in his impeachment by Parliament.
Mr Johnson himself backed such a move against Tony Blair in 2004, but the mechanism is has never been successfully used against a PM.
Eurosceptics have been ramping up pressure on Boris Johnson – pictured meeting Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar in Dublin this morning – to stick to his promise not to delay the UK’s departure from the EU
Mr Johnson hunkered down in Chevening, the Foreign Secretary’s country residence, yesterday with his closest aides as they wargamed the days ahead.
The group is understood to have included chief strategist Dominic Cummings.
One plan under consideration to prevent the three month extension is for the Prime Minister to send an additional letter alongside the request to extend Article 50, setting out the government’s position that they don’t want a delay and want to leave on October 31.
A source told The Telegraph: ‘There is a prescribed letter that has to be sent…Does that stop the Prime Minister sending other documents to the EU? I don’t think it does.
‘A political explainer perhaps, as to where the Government’s policy is. It has to make clear that the Government is asking for an extension, but let’s not forget what the next step is.
‘Once that is done, the Europeans are going to ask: ‘Why? What is the reason? [What] if the government said: ‘We don’t have any reasons for an extension.
‘There is a clear path now: the Europeans need to refuse an extension.’
France has already suggested it could veto lengthening the talks, with French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, telling reporters: ‘We are not going to do this (extend the deadline) every three months.’
And yesterday Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab indicated that No 10 would not go down without a fight, saying Mr Johnson was ‘sticking to his guns’ to get the country ‘out of this rut’.
Mr Johnson bunkered down in Chevening, the Foreign Secretary’s country residence, yesterday to wargame the Brexit crisis with his closest aides. It is understood to have included chief strategist Dominic Cummings (pictured outside his London home last week)
His comments raise the prospect of a crunch legal challenge in the Supreme Court in the weeks leading up to October 31.
After declaring last week he would rather ‘die in a ditch’ than delay Brexit any further, he will refuse to ask for an extension at the EU Council on October 17 and 18. That would force MPs to take him to court to try and enforce the law – potentially sparking a major constitutional clash.
Downing Street sources have said they would look to ‘sabotage’ the extension. But when the law was passed by MPs and Mr Johnson’s plans for an early election were blocked by opposition parties there was widespread speculation he could be forced to quit.
Over the weekend, a former director of public prosecutions warned he would be jailed for contempt of court if he refused to comply with the law.
Labour MP: Corbyn unfit for office
A senior Labour MP has launched a tirade against Jeremy Corbyn’s record as leader and blamed him for the party’s current anti-Semitism crisis.
John Mann, who is standing down at the next election to become the Government’s anti-Semitism tsar, told The Sunday Times he could ‘never forgive’ Mr Corbyn for allowing the party’s ‘soul and ethics’ to be ‘hijacked’.
The MP for Bassetlaw in Nottinghamshire also said he could not campaign for Mr Corbyn knowing he could become prime minister.
The 59-year-old, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group against anti-Semitism, told the newspaper: ‘Every time I go into a meeting with a group of Jewish people, I wince when they raise the issue of the Labour Party and Mr Corbyn. It is impossible to overstate the anger that I have about that.’
Mr Mann said he would not ‘lie’ to voters in an election campaign, and added: ‘Neither am I prepared to tell them that Mr Corbyn is appropriate to be prime minister. Because I don’t think he is.’
In a sign of concerns within Cabinet, Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland QC yesterday revealed he had challenged Mr Johnson personally over the issue.
Dismissing speculation he could quit as ‘wide of the mark’, Mr Buckland said he would continue to serve in his Cabinet.
But he revealed he had spoken to Mr Johnson over the weekend ‘regarding the importance of the Rule of Law, which I as Lord Chancellor have taken an oath to uphold’. His comments were seen as a threat to quit if Mr Johnson actively disobeyed the law. Other ministers would be expected to follow him.
Yesterday, Mr Raab insisted ministers would ‘adhere to the law’ but said government lawyers would look ‘very carefully’ at what it requires the Prime Minister to do.
He told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: ‘We will adhere to the law but we will also, because this is such a bad piece of legislation – the Surrender Bill that Jeremy Corbyn backed – we will also want to test to the limit what it does actually lawfully require. We will look very carefully, legally, at what it requires and what it doesn’t require. I think that’s not only the lawful thing to do, it’s also the responsible thing to do and again I’ll repeat that legislation is lousy.’
He also, for the first time, acknowledged it might not be possible to resist another extension to Article 50 – but said that under those circumstances the blame would rest with ‘Jeremy Corbyn, the Liberal Democrats and others who are not prepared to respect the referendum’.
In a separate interview, Home Secretary Sajid Javid said Mr Johnson would not ask for an extension at the EU Council on October 17 and 18. Describing the Bill as an attempt to ‘kneecap’ Britain’s negotiating position, he said ministers would ‘look at our options’ on October 19.
On that date the law kicks in if no agreement has been reached. It tells the Prime Minister to seek an extension until January 31 and accept any extension the EU agrees.
The Mail understands that No 10 strategists have discussed whether an official could be sent to sign off the extension so Mr Johnson does not have to do it in person.
Labour’s shadow attorney-general Shami Chakrabarti said Mr Raab’s comments were ‘irresponsible and elitist’ and called Mr Johnson a ‘tin pot dictator’.
She told Sky News: ‘The idea that a sitting prime minister in one of the oldest democracies on the planet would say, ‘I will ignore the law’ and he says, ‘Oh no, it’s not ignoring the law, it’s just testing it a little bit’. Is that what we say to our kids, is that what we say to poor working people, vulnerable people in this country?
‘I think [such a] position is irresponsible and elitist, the idea that there is one law for Boris Johnson and his mates and another law for everyone else, it’s appalling.’
The Conservative Party leader will fly to Ireland to meet with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Monday morning but his counterpart poured cold water on suggestions of a breakthrough on the stalemate over a solution to the Irish backstop, the safety net agreed by the European Union and the UK to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland.
Sajid Javid fails to rule out pact with Nigel Farage FIVE times
Sajid Javid has failed to rule out a Tory pact with Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party at the next election.
The Chancellor said the Conservative Party did not need electoral alliances to win.
But on BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show he refused five chances to explicitly rule out a pact.
Mr Javid claimed the Government had a plan to deliver Brexit without Mr Farage’s help – but claimed it would be madness to talk about it on television.
‘There are actually new ideas,’ he insisted. ‘Anyone who understands how negotiation works knows you would not discuss those in public and put those in the public domain.
Leader of the Brexit Party Nigel Farage addresses party members and delegates at Doncaster Racecourse during the Brexit Party Conference tour on September 4, in Doncaster
‘I am absolutely clear that we are working wholeheartedly, straining every sinew, to get a new deal and the Prime Minister is personally putting in all the significant effort you would expect.
‘I do know there is a proposal and it would be madness to start talking about that in public.’ Mr Farage has asked the Tories to stand aside in Labour seats in the North in return for an agreement that the Brexit Party will not stand against pro-Leave Tories.
Many Conservatives favour such an alliance, because they fear Labour could sneak through the middle in many seats if both Tory and Brexit Party candidates stand.
Mr Javid said: ‘We absolutely now need an election. It is being forced on us because Parliament is trying to kneecap these negotiations.’
He was asked five times to rule out a pact with the Brexit Party, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson is believed to have privately ruled out. Mr Javid said: ‘We don’t need an electoral alliance with anyone. We can stand on our own two feet, put our message across.
‘The picture our opponents are painting of us, of course they would paint a false picture. We are a proud centre-Right, moderate, one-nation party.
‘There is nothing extremist about wanting to meet the will of the British people on a simple question which was ‘Do you want to leave the EU or not?’. We are not in an election yet. I am clear we do not need an alliance with anyone.’
Mr Farage has publicly offered a non-aggression pact between the two parties, citing the Conservatives’ substantial losses in the 2019 European Parliament elections.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, he said the offer was ‘100 per cent sincere’, adding: ‘Johnson should cast his mind back to the European elections in May, in which his party came fifth, and ask himself: does he want the Tories to find themselves in a similarly disastrous position when the results of the next general election come in, or does he want to sign a non-aggression pact with me and return to Downing Street?’
Mr Javid’s refusal to preclude a pact was criticised by the opposition. Shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett said: ‘The Tories are refusing to rule out a grubby deal with Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party because they know he supports all their cuts to public services and the sell-off of our NHS to Donald Trump.’
Expelled Tory MP Sam Gyimah told Radio 5 Live: ‘I know there is a serious level of disquiet about what the Government is doing, not just in terms of No Deal but an explicit attempt to purge the Conservative Party of moderate MPs because they see that as the way to steal the Brexit Party votes from underneath Nigel Farage.
‘If the Conservative Party can become more like the Brexit Party, then they hope to be able to get his votes without a pact.’
What is your plan, Boris? Cabinet Minister Nicky Morgan urges Tory colleagues to rally behind under-fire Prime Minister Boris Johnson but warns he MUST be more ‘transparent’ over his dealings with the EU
A Cabinet minister today issues a rallying cry to Tory moderates to stand by Boris Johnson and help him deliver Brexit.
The party was plunged into fresh civil war at the weekend after the resignation of Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd.
Amid speculation at least one minister could follow her out, Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan insists she would ‘stay in the room’ and give the Prime Minister the ‘necessary support’ to strike a Brexit deal.
Writing for the Daily Mail, she says Mr Johnson is right to keep No Deal on the table and insists the public are ‘fed up’ with the lack of progress over Brexit.
The party was plunged into fresh civil war at the weekend after the resignation of Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd. Pictured on The Andrew Marr Show today
Her comments will be seen as an attempt to calm One Nation Tories disturbed by Miss Rudd’s departure and the eviction of 21 Conservative MPs last week.
But in a challenge to the Prime Minister, Mrs Morgan also says he needs to be more ‘transparent’ about the progress of negotiations with Brussels.
‘With our support, the Prime Minister now needs to show he’s serious about getting a deal,’ she writes. ‘More transparency… on the discussions is needed to ensure everyone is left in no doubt about how a deal is possible and the effort which is being put in to making sure a deal happens.’
Miss Rudd quit the Cabinet and resigned the Tory whip on Saturday over the ‘purge’ of the rebels – who include former chancellors Ken Clarke and Philip Hammond – calling it an ‘assault on decency and democracy’.
She also accused Mr Johnson of a ‘failure’ to pursue a deal with the EU, saying there was ‘no evidence’ he wants a negotiated agreement. In what was seen as a signal others could follow, she said ‘a lot of people are concerned’.
In a challenge to the Prime Minister, Nicky Morgan (pictured outside No10 Downing Street last week) also says Boris Johnson needs to be more ‘transparent’ about the progress of negotiations with Brussels
But in her article Mrs Morgan defends Mr Johnson, saying he has been ‘clear from the start that we must leave on October 31 – deal or No Deal’. Her intervention came as:
- A Bill designed to force Mr Johnson to delay Brexit if he hasn’t secured a deal by October 19 was set to receive Royal Assent today;
- Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Mr Johnson would ‘test to the limit’ the legislation – setting the stage for a Supreme Court fight;
- Amid the turmoil, the PM was buoyed by two polls giving the Tories a double-digit lead over Labour;
- Therese Coffey, an environment minister, was promoted to Cabinet to fill the work and pensions brief;
- Home Secretary Sajid Javid refused three times to rule out an electoral pact with Nigel Farage;
- Union leaders pledged to march to force a general election ‘as soon as possible’ despite Jeremy Corbyn standing in the way of one;
- Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell was accused of ‘putting the EU in the driving seat’ after he suggested Labour would not seek to significantly change Theresa May’s Brexit deal;
- The French foreign minister threatened to vote against any Brexit extension next month;
- Mr Hammond came under fire from Tory MPs after claiming the party was being turned into an ‘extreme right-wing faction’.
Jo Johnson spoke outside his home after resigning as Universities minister last week
Yesterday a string of Cabinet ministers who backed Remain in 2016 moved to deny they would follow Miss Rudd out, including Health Secretary Matt Hancock, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland and Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith.
There were even claims Mr Smith had threatened to quit after a row over No Deal legislation for Northern Ireland. Mr Buckland indicated he would quit if Mr Johnson refused to abide by the rule of law.
A junior transport minister, George Freeman, tweeted that Miss Rudd’s exit was ‘another massive blow’ and would undermine confidence that there was a ‘serious ambition to get a Withdrawal deal’. The tweet was later deleted.
Like Miss Rudd, Mrs Morgan backed Remain in 2016. But she is seen as a pragmatist and admired by Tory Brexiteers for her work pushing ‘alternative arrangements’ to deal with the border in Northern Ireland.
Today the Prime Minister travels to Dublin for what are expected to be difficult talks with Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, in what aides said was further evidence of his determination to pursue a deal.
MPs are also expected to vote on Tory demands for an early general election, which Labour and other opposition parties have pledged to block.
I want a deal – but we must be prepared to leave without one
by Nicky Morgan
Watching talented colleagues walking away from the Cabinet table is never easy. I am sorry to see Amber Rudd and Jo Johnson decide to do so in recent days.
I respect their decision, but the Prime Minister has been clear from the start that we must leave on October 31 – deal or No Deal.
In the words of the musical Hamilton, I intend to stay ‘in the room where it happens’ to ensure that together with my colleagues, the Prime Minister has the necessary support to fulfil his priority of agreeing a deal with the EU as we leave by October 31.
I am sorry to see Amber Rudd and Jo Johnson decide to do so in recent days. Pictured, Amber Rudd appeared on The Andrew Marr Show today
Before I joined the Government, I spent months working as part of the Prosperity UK Commission on Alternative Arrangements to the Irish backstop. Our work demonstrated that there were other ways to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
Using these alternative arrangements is now key to getting that deal with the EU which will allow an orderly exit on October 31 and finally enable the 2016 referendum to be fulfilled.
I know from conversations inside Government that our proposals are being taken on board and this work is happening in earnest.
An overwhelming majority of Conservative MPs and party members backed the Prime Minister’s deal or No Deal plan when he was elected Leader of the Conservative Party in July.
Three years on from the referendum, we need to find a way for our country to come back together and bring the volatility of British politics to a close now.
It is no surprise that the public are exhausted and fed up. I share this frustration – they voted to leave three years ago and it is our duty to deliver on that result.
People want certainty and that is why Jeremy Corbyn’s constant political games must stop. Mr Corbyn’s Surrender Bill last week is yet again another opportunistic tactic to undermine the Prime Minister’s negotiations and will just see endless delays. People now want Brexit delivered so we can focus on our domestic agenda.
With our support, the Prime Minister now needs to show he’s serious about getting a deal. Pictured, Amber Rudd and Boris Johnson on the final day of the 2017 Coservative Conference
And I agree that the No Deal option has to be kept on the table. While we are all clear that a deal is preferable, I know from my years as a mergers and acquisitions lawyer that no two sides to a negotiation can be compelled to agree a deal.
That is why ministers and departments have spent all summer increasing our preparations to ensure the UK is properly ready for a No Deal on October 31 if that eventuality unfolds.
But the whole Government, from the Prime Minister down, is clear that getting a deal with the EU is the priority.
That is why he visited Berlin and Paris last month and will be seeing the Irish prime minister today. It is why the Prime Minister’s envoy, David Frost, is spending so much time in Brussels setting out the UK’s position.
It is why the Brexit Secretary, Stephen Barclay, is visiting EU capital cities too.
With our support, the Prime Minister now needs to show he’s serious about getting a deal.
More transparency, such as that laid out by the Brexit Secretary yesterday, on the discussions is needed to ensure everyone is left in no doubt about how a deal is possible and the effort which is being put in to making sure a deal happens. Government will face the same pressures around disclosure in our future free-trade agreement negotiations.
I want the Prime Minister to succeed in his priority of finding a deal with the EU. A deal will mean that the ambitious Queen’s Speech programme we have planned can be the main focus after three endless years of Brexit – what a relief that would be for everyone.
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