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Opponents of Boris Johnson’s threat to crash out of the European Union without a deal on Oct. 31 are hardening their plans to stop him as the new U.K. prime minister seeks to build support with a series of targeted spending pledges.
Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn signaled he will call a vote of no-confidence when Parliament returns next month while rebel MP Dominic Grieve said a growing number of his fellow Conservatives will turn against Johnson as the premier’s “no-ifs-no-buts” Halloween deadline for leaving the bloc approaches.
Grieve, a former attorney general, contradicted a claim by Health Secretary Matt Hancock that Parliament cannot block a no-deal split. If there’s enough support for Corbyn’s vote of no-confidence, Parliament could force the appointment of a new premier at the helm of a government of national unity, Grieve said.
“No-deal can be stopped if Parliament wishes to stop it,” Grieve told Sky News on Monday evening. In the 14 days after a successful vote of no-confidence “there’s nothing a current prime minister can do to stop a new administration being formed if a majority of the House of Commons wanted it,” Grieve said.
He conceded that political divisions would make such a coalition difficult, as party leaders would have to be willing to surrender their political power to compromise with their adversaries. But Grieve said he has been talking to all sides in Parliament about how it might be done.
The Times newspaper reported in its Tuesday edition that Johnson would refuse to resign if Parliament voted for a new administration, citing a briefing to officials by Dominic Cummings, his senior adviser. Such a move would break with convention and could drag Queen Elizabeth II into making a decision between the competing factions.
Johnson, who was in pro-Brexit Lincolnshire on Monday to announce cash for the National Health Service, said he doesn’t want an early general election despite claims his flurry of spending commitments are a sign he intends to call one.
Corbyn, who has long demanded a national vote, said he will put down a motion of no-confidence at an “appropriate very early time,” after Parliament returns on Sept. 3 and his party “will do everything we can” to stop Britain crashing out of the EU without an agreement.
“The prime minister seems to be trying to slip no-deal through, slip past Parliament and slip past the British people,” Corbyn told reporters in Derbyshire, northern England, Monday. “No-deal will be really serious; serious for food prices, for medical supplies, for trade, for investment.”
The EU is watching developments in London as it weighs how to handle Johnson, who says he wants a new Brexit agreement but is prepared to walk away without one. Germany doesn’t expect Johnson to make good on his no-deal threat and expects Parliament to stop him, according to two government officials in Berlin.
The U.K.’s EU partners showed no sign of giving in to Johnson’s demands when officials met in Brussels on Monday. Representatives of the bloc’s 27 other member states reaffirmed their position that the Brexit agreement can’t be re-opened, according to a person familiar with the discussion. The Guardian newspaper reported that they were told a no-deal split is now Johnson’s “central scenario.”
If Johnson loses a no-confidence vote, which could be held as soon as Sept. 4, he would then have 14 days to try to command a majority in the House of Commons -- the benchmark for being prime minister -- and his opponents, including Labour and Grieve, would try to do the same. If neither is able to, Johnson might be forced to call a general election.
The Sunday Telegraph reported that Johnson could delay calling the election until after Oct. 31, according to a briefing to staff by Cummings, allowing Britain to tumble out of the bloc by default in the meantime.
But any attempt to push through a no-deal Brexit not supported by the House of Commons would put Johnson on a legal and constitutional collision course.
“The Cummings strategy works if they are prepared to blow through lots of constitutional conventions,” Ruth Fox, Director at the Hansard Society, said in an interview. “It’s a very, very high-risk strategy.”
--With assistance from Kitty Donaldson.
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