Plotters prepare for a ‘very British coup’
Theresa May has been warned that her government ‘‘will lose its ability to govern’’ after Downing Street uncovered a bombshell plot by senior MPS to seize control of Brexit negotiations and sideline the prime minister.
A cross-party group of senior backbenchers – including former Tory ministers – plan what one senior figure branded a ‘‘very British coup’’ if May loses the crunch vote on her Brexit deal tomorrow.
At least two groups of rebel MPS are plotting to change Commons rules so motions proposed by backbenchers take precedence over government business, upending the centuries-old relationship between executive and legislature.
Downing Street believes that would enable MPS to suspend article 50, putting Brexit on hold, and could even lead to the referendum result being overturned – a move that would plunge the country into a constitutional crisis.
May’s team got wind of the plot on Thursday evening, local time, when one of the conspirators – a former cabinet minister – was overheard by the government chief whip Julian Smith discussing the plan in the MPS’ cloakroom. He commissioned written advice from legal experts, who warned May her government’s future was at stake.
Smith briefed May on Friday on the explosive document, which says: ‘‘Such an attempt represents a clear and present danger to all government business.
‘‘Without control of the order paper, the government has no control over the House of Commons and the parliamentary business and legislation necessary to progress government policies. The government would lose its ability to govern.’’
A senior government source said that May and her aides were ‘‘shellshocked’’ and declared: ‘‘This could be game over for Brexit.’’ Another added: ‘‘This sounds very like a very British coup – and one that has profound implications for democracy.’’
Crucially, Commons sources say the Speaker, John Bercow, is