The British Opposition party Labour launch the first step in an audacious cross-party attempt to stop Britain leaving the EU without a deal. The party’s move will be an attempt to block a new prime minister, due to be elected in July, from forcing through a no-deal Brexit in October and will increase the challenge for Eurosceptic candidates who promise to complete the process with or without a deal. It mainly increases the challenge for Boris Johnson, who will launch his Tory leadership bid, and has been a staunch critic of the whole process until now.
Before the new Conservative prime minister enters Downing Street, the Labour party has tabled a motion designed to prevent a no-deal Brexit. The left-leaning opposition party will use its opposition day debate on Wednesday to pass a motion, which if passed would give MPs control of the parliamentary agenda on 25 June, effectively ceding power from the future prime minister to force a no-deal Brexit. The motion is backed by the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National party, Liberal Democratic leader Sir Vince Cable and other small parties, and the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, said cabinet ministers including Amber Rudd and Philip Hammond should back this attempt if they were serious about preventing no deal. Oliver Letwin, a centrist former Conservative minister, has also supported the cross-party move, giving a boost to the party’s attempt. To prevent a no-deal Brexit during a vote in the spring, Mr Letwin was heavily involved in parliamentary manoeuvres.
If Labour wins the motion, it would seize control of the parliamentary agenda on 25th June and seek measures, including legislation, to help avoid a no-deal Brexit. The party would also attempt to prevent a future prime minister from forcing through a disorderly exit against the wishes of MPs by suspending— known as “proroguing” — parliament to take the UK out of the EU. Though it will need to secure the support of more Conservative MPs, it is not like normal opposition day debates, as the motion will be binding if passed. While Mr Johnson and other Tory leadership contenders have promised to force through a no-deal exit on 31 October if they fail to renegotiate Britain’s withdrawal agreement, the move, which had been a closely guarded secret, would thwart such pledges and ensure an orderly exit.
Prominent current and Former Tory leader including Dominic Grieve and Nick Boles have worked on the plan. The proposal is not unprecedented as, in April, Letwin and the Labour MP Yvette Cooper had made a similar move. After 14 Tory MPs rebelled, it got passed by one vote. As the plan is based on a Labour opposition day motion, even if many Conservative MPs broadly support its objective, it might be challenging to convince some party colleagues to seek their support. The sentiment is echoed by many Conservative sources who have worked behind the scenes on the proposal, putting the chances of securing the required majority at risk. One Tory source said that the MPs would have to be persuaded that it is currently the only hook available. Jonathan Djanogly said he would support the motion, having supported previous efforts by Letwin to stop no deal despite backing Theresa May’s deal.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the outgoing European Commission president, said that the treaty agreed between the two parties was a treaty between the UK and the EU and not just between Theresa May and Juncker. He further emphasised that there will be no renegotiations as far as the content of the withdrawal agreement is concerned, and it would have to be honoured by whoever is the next British prime minister. He also criticised the British political society, whose, according to him, the main interest was not how to find agreement with the European Union but how to replace Theresa May. He also told that the working assumption was that the country would leave the bloc by the latest deadline, i.e., 31 October.
The remark by the European Commission President came as many of the Conservative Party candidates vying to replace Prime Minister Theresa May, including Boris Johnson, insisted they could negotiate a better deal, notably when it comes to revisiting backstop arrangements for preventing a hard border in Ireland - a critical issue of contention in the divorce process, both domestically and internationally. Mr Junker has also rejected giving an expiration date of backstop plan. Mr Johnson, who is the frontrunner to be the next Prime Minister and is amongst the most prominent Brexiteer in the UK, is facing opposition from City of London grandees, who have voiced misgivings about the prospect of him becoming the next prime minister.
Along with broader worries about his attitude towards business, their stance highlights the concern that Mr Johnson might lead the UK to a no-deal Brexit and have thus indicated a strong preference for his rival Michael Gove. Among those who indicated their support for Mr Gove are Daniel Godfrey, ex-chief executive of the Investment Association, the trade body representing Britain’s asset management industry; Alison Carnwath, the former chair of Landsec, the UK’s largest listed property developer; Paul Manduca, the chairman of Prudential, the insurer, who described him as the obvious choice to succeed Theresa May.
Jeremy Hunt, foreign secretary and Mr Johnson’s closest rival in the contest who has warned that a no-deal exit would be political suicide for the Tories, received a boost on Tuesday night when Greg Clark gave him his backing. The business secretary said that Mr Hunt knew the importance of a trading relationship with the EU and his endorsement would strengthen Mr Hunt’s position as the principal rival to Mr Johnson.
While May will remain as prime minister until the next leader is selected, likely sometime in July, she formally stepped aside as leader of the Conservative Party on June 7, kicking off the contest for next British PM, who would be decided by Conservative members of Parliament (MPs) and party members. The minimum qualification needed is the support of at least eight lawmakers, and by Monday 10 contenders had passed this requirement to advance to the first round of voting, which begins Thursday. While MPs will continue to vote in as many rounds as necessary until two finalists are left, after the two finalists are selected, 160,000 or so official members of the Conservative Party will vote to select the new PM. Experts feel this raises the risk of pro-Brexit candidate becoming the leader as the party’s members tend to be Eurosceptic.
The cross-party attempt by the Labour party would give priority to a debate on that day on legislation relating to Brexit and give more parliamentary time for MPs to find a legal route to stop no deal. Many people have cautioned that the move could induce a general election and Letwin is the only Conservative name on the motion. Steve Baker, the deputy chair of the hard-Brexit European Research Group, cautioned that the Conservatives could be wiped out by the Brexit party if general elections are held.