Jeremy Corbyn has outlined plans to defeat a no-deal Brexit under Prime Minister Boris Johnson by securing a general election as leader of a “strictly time-limited” caretaker government after winning a no-confidence vote.
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Corbyn outlined his plan on Wednesday in a letter to Westminster’s opposition leaders and key Conservative rebels including Dominic Grieve and Sir Oliver Letwin.
It comes amid persistent fears of a chaotic and damaging no-deal Brexit under the prime minister’s “do or die” commitment to leave the EU by the deadline.
“This Government has no mandate for no-deal, and the 2016 EU referendum provided no mandate for no-deal,” Corbyn wrote.
“I, therefore, intend to table a vote of no confidence at the earliest opportunity when we can be confident of success.
“Following a successful vote of no confidence in the Government, I would then, as Leader of the Opposition, seek the confidence of the house for a strictly time-limited temporary government with the aim of calling a general election, and securing the necessary extension of Article 50 to do so.”
Corbyn said Labour would campaign in that election for a second referendum on EU membership with the option to “remain” available to voters.
In the letter sent to the SNP’s Ian Blackford, Plaid Cymru’s Liz Saville Roberts and Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, he concluded that he hopes to discuss the proposals with them further to “end the uncertainty and disarray”.
Corbyn has repeatedly ruled out working in coalition with other opposition parties as the Brexit impasse has deepened.
Boris vs Bercow
Earlier on Wednesday, the UK’s’s executive and parliamentary figures again clashed over the prime minister’s attempts to pull the country out from the EU, with the scene set for a September showdown.
Johnson is refusing to negotiate with Brussels until it agrees to change the Withdrawal Agreement, the deal it negotiated with his predecessor Theresa May. Brussels says it won’t renegotiate.
The impasse leaves the UK on course for a no-deal exit unless Parliament can stop it.
Johnson lashed out during a Facebook Q&A session, accusing opponents of trying to undermine the result of the 2016 referendum.
“There’s a terrible kind of collaboration, as it were, going on between people who think they can block Brexit in Parliament and our European friends,” he said.
On Wednesday, former Finance Minister Philip Hammond accused Johnson of deliberately wrecking negotiations and said Parliament had the power to block a no-deal exit.
“There is no popular mandate for a no-deal Brexit and no parliamentary mandate for one either,” he wrote in the Times. “The hardliners may make the most noise but they are not the most numerous.”
The spat shows a change in leadership over the summer has done little to heal the divisions that felled May, raising the chances of a full-blown constitutional crisis on the way to a no-deal Brexit.
The signals point to a frantic 78 days coming as Parliament takes on prime minister, testing the country’s unwritten constitution.
MPs return from their summer break on September 3, reconvening in the Palace of Westminster on the banks of the River Thames for a fight over Brexit that will determine the fortunes of the world’s fifth-largest economy.
Later that week, the first hearing of a legal challenge backed by a cross-party group of 75 MPs and peers will take place in court in Scotland. It aims to block any suspension of Parliament to allow the clock to tick down and see the UK leave the EU with no deal by default.
Johnson has staked his leadership on a Halloween Brexit and left little room for manoeuvre. He has refused to rule out suspending Parliament until after the UK leaves the EU – and aides have reportedly said he could delay any election until November if he lost a vote of no confidence.
Whatever form it takes, Brexit cannot be allowed to imperil the Good Friday Agreement, including the seamless border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland
Legislators have been scouring parliamentary rulebooks looking for a way to either apply pressure for a change of course or seize control of the agenda and change the law to reverse or delay Brexit.
Johnson says parliament is undermining his negotiations, causing the EU to wait and see if efforts to block a no-deal exit are successful.
Speaker John Bercow, the arbiter of disputes on parliamentary procedure, said he would fight any attempt to bypass or close down Parliament to secure Brexit.
Votes in Parliament have shown on several occasions there is majority support for measures to block or hinder a no-deal exit.
But any majority would be unstable, made up of MPs from different parties that are ideologically opposed, except when it comes to stopping a no-deal Brexit.
And with the government controlling the tight parliamentary timetable and capable of starving opponents of opportunity to make their move, the Institute for Government think-tank says legislators face a huge challenge.
“Even if they can assemble a majority for something, they may find few opportunities to make their move – and time is running out,” said Joe Owen, Brexit programme director at the IfG.
Across the pond
Brexiteers were buoyed by the visit to the UK of US National Security Adviser John Bolton, who promised that the UK would be “first in the queue, or line as we say” for a post-Brexit trade deal.
He added that a US-UK trade deal could be completed sector-by-sector, though that runs against the rules of the World Trade Organisation.
Negotiating the deal for the United States would be Robert Lighthizer, a veteran trade representative having worked under the Reagan administration with decades of legal, trade and negotiation experience. The British side would be headed up by trade minister Liz Truss, a management accountant who has been an MP since 2010.
But any trade deal agreed with Washington will have to be signed off by the US Congress. And there is no chance that will happen if Brexit undermines the Good Friday peace accord between Ireland and Northern Ireland, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday.
“Whatever form it takes, Brexit cannot be allowed to imperil the Good Friday Agreement, including the seamless border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland,” Pelosi said in a statement.
“If Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be no chance of a US-UK trade agreement passing the Congress,” the Democratic head of the US House of Representatives added.