Anti-Brexit Tory Tries to Stop Next PM Suspending Parliament

Kitty Donaldson and Robert Hutton
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U.K. Parliament Flexes Muscle as Johnson Doubles Down on No-Deal

(Bloomberg) -- Members of Britain’s Parliament delivered a sharp warning to the country’s next prime minister: they will not allow him to pursue a no-deal Brexit without a fight.In a dramatic result Tuesday evening, MPs narrowly passed a measure aimed at stopping the U.K.’s future leader forcing the country out of the European Union without an agreement, against their wishes. The result sets up another potential crisis in British politics in the weeks and months ahead as the U.K.’s leaders grapple with the intractable tensions of Brexit.Minutes after the vote, the two men vying to become prime minister clashed on television over the same issue that dominated the debate in the House of Commons: whether they would be willing to close down Parliament in order to deliver Brexit -- with or without a deal -- by the deadline of Oct. 31.Boris Johnson, the front-runner in the leadership contest, refused to rule out suspending Parliament if it’s the only way to complete Brexit on time, while his rival, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, rejected the idea.With the opposition Labour Party committing itself to opposing any Brexit plan put forward by either of the two men, all Britain’s politicians seemed to be digging themselves into more entrenched positions, and the possibility of compromise looked further away than ever.Routes to ResolutionThe U.K. is due to leave the EU by the end of October, but Parliament is deadlocked and refusing to pass a deal. Both Johnson and Hunt have rejected the other possible routes to a resolution, such as a referendum or a general election. Unless something gives, Parliament may have to choose between a no-deal Brexit or bringing down the government.While he’s the clear favorite to succeed Theresa May as prime minister, Johnson, if he does win, will find MPs set against his strategy. Johnson argues that the U.K. needs to look as if it’s serious about no-deal in order to persuade the EU to shift its position.“If we go into these negotiations from the beginning with a plan to allow that deadline yet again to be fungible, to be a paper-mache deadline, I’m afraid that the EU will not take us seriously," Johnson told the debate. "Nor will business understand that they must prepare for no-deal.”Parliament’s LineSeveral ministers have said Parliament would block a no-deal Brexit, and on Tuesday night, Johnson was asked if he’d be willing to suspend Parliament to push one through. “I’m not going to take anything off the table,” he replied.Just an hour earlier, the House of Commons voted to pass a measure proposed by rebel pro-EU Conservative Dominic Grieve to make it harder for the premier to suspend Parliament. The vote was tight -- passing by 294 votes to 293 -- and a subsequent part of Grieve’s plan was narrowly rejected, but MPs had shown they were willing to act to stop a no-deal split from the EU.Hunt dismissed the idea of suspending Parliament. “When that has happened in the past, when Parliament has been shut down against its will, we actually had a civil war,” he said.The foreign secretary accused Johnson of being a people-pleaser, rather than a leader. “Being prime minister is about telling people what they need to hear, not just what they want to hear,” he said. The leader must be "honest" with people about the "challenges” ahead, Hunt said.Labour, ‘Brilliant Quality’One of those challenges is the hardening position of the Labour Party. Without a majority in the Commons, any prime minister can only get a Brexit deal through if they can pick up some Labour votes.But the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Tuesday yielded to pressure from activists to oppose Brexit. He said the party would now support a second referendum on any Tory proposal, and would campaign to remain in the EU in that referendum. That’s not a good sign for Conservatives hoping that Corbyn would let some of his MPs back a Brexit deal in order to get the issue resolved.Johnson avoided questions about whether he supported Britain’s ambassador to the U.S., Kim Darroch, who is under attack from Donald Trump over comments about the U.S. administration in leaked diplomatic cables.Johnson said he admired Hunt’s ability to change his mind. Hunt had his response ready.“I really admire Boris’s ability to answer the question,” Hunt said. “You ask him a question, he puts a smile on your face, and you forget what the question was. It’s a brilliant quality for a politician, maybe not a prime minister.”To contact the reporters on this story: Robert Hutton in London at rhutton1@bloomberg.net;Jessica Shankleman in London at jshankleman@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Tim Ross at tross54@bloomberg.net, Robert JamesonFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

(Bloomberg) -- U.K. Conservatives working to prevent a chaotic Brexit have proposed legislation to stop the next prime minister suspending Parliament to force a no-deal break from the European Union.

Dominic Grieve, a former attorney general and veteran anti-Brexit rebel, proposed an amendment that would require Parliament to be in session on Sept. 4, Oct. 9 and then every two weeks until Dec. 18 -- effectively making it impossible for Theresa May’s successor to suspend the legislature to try to bypass lawmakers ahead of the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline.

It would also allow MPs to seize control of the Parliamentary agenda. If the speaker selects the amendment -- which is unpredictable -- it would go to a vote on Tuesday.

Boris Johnson, the front-runner in the Tory leadership contest, has vowed to take Britain out of the bloc “do or die” by the end of October, even if he hasn’t secured a divorce agreement to smooth the process. He has said he doesn’t want to suspend Parliament to push through a hard break, but has declined to rule out using the radical and controversial measure.

Fearing the economic chaos that would follow a no-deal divorce, about 30 Conservative members of Parliament are trying to figure out how to use the tools of Parliament to prevent it. Whether they can succeed is the most pressing question now facing investors, businesses and citizens.

Grieve is using the Northern Ireland Bill as a vehicle for his latest bid to stop a chaotic divorce.

Speaking on BBC radio Tuesday, Grieve said it was difficult to estimate how much support he has, but that several Conservative lawmakers had signed his amendment.

“People are going to have to make up their mind if they’re prepared to make a stand,” he said. “The advantage of doing something now is that it’s much less likely one has to do something more drastic later on.”

That’s a reference to the last-resort option MPs will have to block a no-deal -- by bringing down the government in a no-confidence vote. Many Tories are reluctant to contemplate that as it could put the socialist Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in office.

There is no guarantee Grieve’s amendment will be selected by Speaker of the Commons John Bercow when Parliament debates the bill Tuesday. Grieve’s last attempt to block a no-deal Brexit -- by cutting off spending to government departments -- was thwarted when Bercow didn’t include his plan for a vote.

The Times reported that Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond -- a fierce opponent of a no-deal Brexit -- had urged May to allow Conservative MPs to support efforts to stop Parliament from being suspended. It said he’d suggested that in return he’d agree to release money for education funding, something it said May wants for her legacy.

(Updates with Grieve comments from seventh paragraph.)

--With assistance from Joe Mayes.

To contact the reporters on this story: Kitty Donaldson in London at kdonaldson1@bloomberg.net;Robert Hutton in London at rhutton1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tim Ross at tross54@bloomberg.net;Emma Ross-Thomas at erossthomas@bloomberg.net

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.