Plot­ters pre­pare for a ‘very British coup’

Nelson Mail - - World -

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 likely to al­low the gam­bit to pro­ceed. It can now be re­vealed that one of the rebel ring­leaders, the for­mer at­tor­ney gen­eral Do­minic Grieve, vis­ited Bercow in his of­fi­cial res­i­dence on Tues­day, the day be­fore the Speaker tore up Com­mons rules to help re­mainer MPs.

On Satur­daynight, as ex­am­in­ing plans to seize con­trol of the Com­mons timetable. He said: ‘‘I have no doubt that lots of peo­ple may be look­ing at all sorts of ideas since we are in a deep­en­ing na­tional po­lit­i­cal cri­sis.’’

Bri­tain will leave the EU on March 29 un­less there is a new act of par­lia­ment over­turn­ing ex­ist­ing Brexit leg­is­la­tion. Se­nior Brex­i­teers as­sume this is not pos­si­ble as the gov­ern­ment con­trols the timetable of Com­mons busi­ness. The plot, which May’s aides be­lieve is be­ing or­ches­trated by Sir Oliver Letwin, an ally of David Cameron, would tor­pedo that as­sump­tion.

If, as ex­pected, May loses the crunch vote on Tues­day evening, local time, she must ta­ble a new plan by the fol­low­ing Mon­day. Tory whips be­lieve plot­ters would then ta­ble an amend­ment to May’s plan (or the busi­ness mo­tion that pre­cedes it), propos­ing that fu­ture mo­tions set­ting out the busi­ness of the House could be tabled by non­govern­ment mem­bers. If that passes, MPs, not min­is­ters, could shape the fu­ture of Brexit.

To­day, mem­bers of the ‘‘Nor­way group’’, which backs mem­ber­ship of the sin­gle mar­ket, will meet to dis­cuss their plans. That group in­cludes Letwin, Nick Boles, Nicky Mor­gan and Labour’s Stephen Kin­nock.

Boles yes­ter­day con­firmed he wants to make it il­le­gal to leave with no deal. He said: ‘‘We have a mech­a­nism which will give par­lia­ment con­trol of the Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions and en­sure we do not leave the EU with­out a deal on March 29. To change a law you need to pass a law. I am work­ing on ways to achieve that out­come. We will be pub­lish­ing it on Tues­day.’’

AP

Pro-Euro­pean demon­stra­tors raise flags to protest, out­side par­lia­ment in Lon­don as the de­bate over Brexit drags on.

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