06:37, August 06 152 0 theguardian.com

2019-08-06 06:37:05
No-deal Brexit 'legally possible even after no-confidence vote'

Boris Johnson could simply ignore a parliamentary vote of no confidence and proceed with a no-deal Brexit followed by an election, unless MPs can form an alternative government in 14 days, a former senior judge has said.

Lord Jonathan Sumption, a former supreme court judge, said Johnson would be entitled to stay on as the prime minister even if he lost a confidence vote.

Under the law, MPs would have two weeks to create an alternative government before an election was automatically triggered.

In those circumstances, the prime minister would have the power to set the date of the election for after 31 October, following the UK’s departure from the EU with or without a deal.

Sumption told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the PM “could fix the date for polling”.

He said there were two main ways MPs fighting a no-deal Brexit could prevent it from happening.

The first was to “pass a statute which limited the right of the government to have a no-deal Brexit by saying they had to revoke article 50” and the second would be an interim government, he said.

Sumption argued both options seemed like “very long shots”, given the parliamentary arithmetic, but conceded the political situation was unpredictable, given the high stakes of a no-deal Brexit.

Johnson has insisted he wants a deal with Brussels but has refused to sit down for talks until the EU agreed to scrap what he called the “undemocratic backstop” – the mechanism to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland that could keep the UK in a customs union.


Why is Boris Johnson's working majority down to one?

There are 650 MPs in total. After the Brecon and Radnorshire byelection the Conservatives have 310 MPs. They also have 10 Democratic Ulster Unionist MPs who have agreed to vote with the government on a confidence and supply basis, giving Boris Johnson a bloc of 320 MPs.

In opposition, the Labour party have 245 MPs, the Scottish National party have 35, the Liberal Democrats 13, Plaid Cymru four and the Green party one. This adds up to a bloc of 298.

There are 11 MPs who do not vote: the Speaker and his three deputies, and the seven Sinn Féin MPs who do not attend the Commons as a matter of principle.

There are 21 MPs who are either independent, or part of the Independent Group for Change. If all of these MPs vote against the government, along with the opposition parties, this totals 319, giving the prime minister a working majority of one.

In practice, one of those independents, Charlie Elphicke, who is currently suspended from the Tory party while charged with sexual assault, is likely to vote with the government. A further complication is that the Labour MP Jared O’Mara has been largely absent from parliament and says he intends to quit in September.

Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s senior adviser and architect of the leave vote, has made clear he would do “whatever necessary” to take the UK out of the EU by 31 October and EU officials are said to be under the impression that Brexit without a deal is the most likely scenario.

There are growing signs Johnson is preparing for being forced into an election by parliament, even though he insists it is the “last thing” he wants.

Speculation intensified after it emerged he has brought in Isaac Levido, the righthand man of the Australian election guru Lynton Crosby, to a new campaigning role at Conservative party headquarters.

Rebel Tory MPs are in talks with senior Labour figures about whether a government of national unity can be formed to stop Johnson pursuing no deal.

It could potentially be led by a centre-right, pro-EU Tory such as Ken Clarke or David Lidington, with the sole aim of requesting an extension to article 50, but the consequences after that are unclear.

Their preferred method is to use legislation to prevent a no-deal Brexit, rather than trying to collapse the government, but No 10 will do everything possible to deny them the opportunity for that.

Vernon Bogdanor, the constitutional expert at King’s College London, warned it would be a “Herculean task” for backbenchers to stop a no-deal Brexit at this stage but listed four possible legislative ways plus the option of bringing down the government.