David Gauke has claimed Boris Johnson wants to lose a crunch No Deal vote this week so the PM can launch a ‘purge’ of Tory Remainer rebels and turn the Conservatives into the Brexit Party ahead of a snap general election.
Westminster is braced for a parliamentary showdown which will shape the UK’s immediate and long term future as opposition MPs plot to seize control of the Commons and pass a law against a No Deal Brexit.
The bid is expected to be backed by as many as 21 pro-EU Tories who are vehemently opposed to a bad break from Brussels.
They have been warned that if they fail to vote with the government this week they will be expelled from the Conservative Party and banned from standing at the next election as Tory candidates.
The tactics adopted by Downing Street have sparked a storm of controversy because if the PM follows through on the threat then he will destroy his parliamentary majority and set the UK on the path to a snap general election.
But Tory Europhile MPs believe that is exactly what Mr Johnson wants to happen and they have claimed there have been almost no efforts from Number 10 to persuade them to back down.
Mr Gauke, the former justice secretary and a likely Tory rebel, said this morning he believed Mr Johnson was ‘goading’ Conservative MPs to vote against him.
Mr Gauke said Number 10 had adopted a ‘particularly confrontational approach’ in the hope that the government will ‘lose this week and then seek a general election’.
But it emerged this morning that an open invite has been extended to every Tory MP to attend a Downing Street reception this evening.
Mr Johnson is also believed to be meeting some of his Conservative colleagues for talks this afternoon although it is unknown exactly who will be sitting down with the PM following a row about a cancelled meeting with leading rebels.
Mr Gauke’s comments came as Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, became the second Cabinet minister to suggest that the government could ignore any anti-No Deal legislation passed by MPs this week.
Michael Gove, the minister in charge of No Deal preparations, hinted yesterday that such a law could be disregarded and Mr Williamson echoed a similar sentiment when he was grilled this morning.
Meanwhile, former Tory and now independent MP Nick Boles today claimed the Conservative Party is finished because the ‘hard right has taken over’.
David Gauke, pictured in London on August 29, has accused Boris Johnson of trying to ‘goad’ Tory Europhile MPs into voting against the government over a bid to stop a No Deal Brexit
Opposition MPs and Tory rebels will this week try to pass a law which will stop a chaotic split from the EU on October 31 but Michael Gove and Gavin Williamson, pictured today in Westminster, have suggested the government could ignore the legislation
A handful of would-be Tory rebels had been due to meet with Mr Johnson for ‘peace talks’ today but the PM subsequently pulled out, publicly blaming a diary clash but insiders said he felt there was no point speaking to them.
Instead of meeting the group of Remainer MPs, Mr Johnson had offered to hold a one-on-one meeting with Philip Hammond – but in a further dramatic development, sources said the former Chancellor would refuse to meet the PM due to the ‘discourteous’ manner in which the PM had acted.
Mr Johnson and his party whips agreed tough tactics yesterday which will see Tory MPs lose the whip if they fail to vote with the government.
Mr Gauke, who was one of several ministers who resigned from the cabinet when Mr Johnson became prime minister, is among a number of former ministers who are expected to back moves in parliament this week to legislate against No Deal.
He said he would risk the threat of having the whip withdrawn by his own party by continuing to fight against No Deal.
Today Mr Gauke made clear he believes the government has adopted a hard-line stance in order to force an early general election in which the Tories will fight on a No Deal ticket, with moderate Conservatives forced out.
He also revealed he was yet to be contacted by the whips.
He told the BBC: ‘It’s obviously a particularly confrontational approach and, I think, designed, frankly, to realign the Conservative Party, to transform the Conservative Party very much in the direction of a Brexit party.
‘I don’t think there seems to be a huge effort to persuade people to support the Government this week. I think they seem to be quite prepared for there to be a rebellion then to purge those who support the rebellion from the party.
‘Normally there would be plenty of cajoling. One would have friends from the Cabinet phoning up and saying ‘Come on, why don’t you support the Government, give them a bit more time?’
‘None of that is happening. The usual operation isn’t particularly happening. It does seem to me they are almost goading people into voting against the Government.
‘Because I think the strategy, to be honest, is to lose this week and then seek a general election, having removed those of us who are not against Brexit, not against leaving the European Union, but believe we should do so with a deal.’
Tomorrow a cross-party group plans to take over the Commons agenda to pass a law ruling out No Deal and ordering Mr Johnson to seek another extension if the UK is on course to crash out of the EU on Halloween.
Approximately 20 Tory MPs, including former Cabinet ministers Mr Hammond, Mr Gauke and Rory Stewart, are threatening to support the move. This could wreck the PM’s ‘do or die’ departure promise.
Mr Gove, pictured arriving in Downing Street today, said yesterday that the government would ‘see what the legislation says’ before acting on any successful bid to stop No Deal
Stephen Barclay, the Brexit Secretary, arrived in Downing Street this morning as the Conservative Party appeared to be on the verge of a Brexit meltdown
Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader pictured in London today, will this week lead efforts to prevent the UK leaving the EU without a deal
Sources in the rebel camp said Mr Johnson’s decision to cancel talks suggested no progress had been made with Brussels.
‘People were going in seeking proof of genuine attempts to get a deal,’ they said.
‘The fact it has been cancelled at short notice suggests there isn’t a proper negotiation going on. The next point of engagement will be in the voting lobbies.’
A source in the Tory whips office last night confirmed that the order had gone out that MPs who rebel would be expelled from the parliamentary party.
The insider said: ‘The whips are telling Conservative MPs today a very simple message – if they fail to vote with the Government on Tuesday they will be destroying the Government’s negotiating position and handing control of Parliament to Jeremy Corbyn.
The 21 Tory rebels who could back a bid to stop a No Deal Brexit
There are thought to be 21 Tory MPs who are preparing to back a bid to block a No Deal Brexit.
Dame Caroline Spelman
Sir Nicholas Soames
‘Any Conservative MP who does this will have the whip withdrawn and will not stand as a Conservative candidate in an election.’
Allies of Mr Johnson believe the prospect of immediate expulsion could persuade many of the rebels to back down.
However a source in the rebel camp said Mr Johnson’s deselection threat smacked of ‘sheer hypocrisy’.
The source added: ‘This is about the national interest, and we’ve moved beyond the point where threats will persuade people to abandon their principles.’
Mr Gove sparked outrage yesterday after he suggested the government could ignore an any anti-No Deal law.
He told the BBC: ‘Let’s see what the legislation says.
‘You’re asking me about a pig in a poke. And I will wait to see what legislation the opposition may try to bring forward.’
Mr Williamson became the second Cabinet minister to hint that such a law could be disregarded as he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain programme this morning: ‘It’s quite normal for government to take the time to look at the legislation and see how it impacts in terms of the negotiations.
‘Every government adheres to the law.’
Mr Williamson, a former chief whip, also insisted that sacking Tory rebels was the right approach to take.
‘Anyone who is voting against the government is in a position where they are voting to undermine the prime minister’s negotiating hand,’ he said.
‘They should think very seriously about that and the consequences.
‘I think that if they (the government) take the view that it is serious enough, that it is undermining the nation’s position and the prime minister’s position, if that is their decision it would be the right decision. If that is what is necessary.’
Downing Street said Mr Williamson was correct in saying that ‘every government adheres to the law’ but against stressed the need to see the legislation.
There are fears in the government that the rebels could draft a defective piece of legislation which does not actually achieve their stated goals.
The PM’s official spokesman said: ‘We haven’t seen what has been put forward yet. The people who are promoting it have not been willing to share that.’
Meanwhile, former Conservative minister Nick Boles today claimed the Tory party is dead, with the ‘hard right’ taking over.
Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s top adviser pictured leaving his London home this morning, has vowed to deliver Brexit by ‘any means necessary’ on October 31
Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme if the party was finished, the independent MP said: ‘Yes. The hard right has taken over the Conservative Party. The Conservative Party has fallen prey to an almost religious obsession with the hardest form of Brexit.’
Mr Boles said Brexit is ‘not necessarily’ a hard-right move but that ‘foisting’ a No Deal departure on the UK is.
He said efforts to legislate to prevent such a departure was not an attempt to ‘sneak’ a second referendum and took aim at Conservatives who have backed down on their former warnings about a No Deal to get jobs in Mr Johnson’s government.
‘We’ve seen that there are some people in the Conservative Party who are willing to sell their principles at a pretty low price in exchange for a job in the Cabinet despite what they’ve said previously about a no-deal Brexit,’ he said.
Mr Johnson has warned his MPs they face a ‘fundamental choice’ between his ambitious agenda, including pumping billions of pounds into public services, or the hard-left Labour leader.
As the rhetoric ramped up, Mr Johnson told the Sunday Times: ‘I just say to everybody in the country, including everyone in parliament, the fundamental choice is this: are you going to side with Jeremy Corbyn and those who want to cancel the referendum?’
‘Are you going to side with those who want to scrub the democratic verdict of the people – and plunge this country into chaos.’
How an explosive week in British politics could play out
The Brexit process reaches what could be a make-or-break stage this week as Boris Johnson and MPs engage in an extraordinary test of strength.
Tory rebels are hoping that by the end of the week they will have forced Mr Johnson to admit he must extend the October 31 deadline rather than try to leave without a deal.
But if they fail, the PM could emerge strengthened – and if they win there is mounting speculation he could opt to call an election rather than bow to their will.
MPs and peers will start massing at Westminster on the last day of the summer recess.
Remainers are likely to be putting the final touches to their plans for taking control of Commons business and passing legislation to block No Deal.
The government will be mobilising its forces to resist, in what promises to be an unprecedented clash between the executive and the House.
The Commons formally returns. Speaker John Bercow is likely to give his response from the chair to Boris Johnson’s decision to prorogue Parliament in mid-September until October 14. He has already branded the idea a ‘constitutional outrage’.
Remainers are expected to table a request for an emergency debate under Standing Order 24. Mr Bercow is likely to approve the request, and bend procedural rules to allow them to use the time to table a business motion.
If the rebels win a crunch vote, they would be able to take control of the Commons order paper and pave the way for a short piece of legislation ordering the PM to seek a Brexit extension.
They could also add extra sitting days, with speculation the House might sit on Friday and through the weekend. There has not been a Saturday sitting since 1982, discussing the Falklands War.
Away from Westminster, a court in Edinburgh is set to consider a legal challenge to Mr Johnson’s proroguation plan.
Consideration of the Bill could start, potentially wiping out plans for the spending review to be presented and Mr Johnson’s first PMQs.
The Bill will need support from Tory rebels successfully to clear its Commons stages, but there appear to be more than enough willing to act to avoid No Deal.
On Thursday, the High Court in London is due to consider another judicial review of Mr Johnson’s proroguation plan, which could offer more drama.
Former PM John Major, Remain campaigner Gina Miller and Labour deputy leader Tom Watson are among those involved in the case claiming that Mr Johnson is acting beyond his powers to silence Parliament.
The Houses are not currently due to sit, but there is a fair chance rebels will try to speed the legislative process by working through the weekend.
The Lords looks set to present the biggest challenge to rebel hopes, with Eurosceptic peers threatening a huge fillibustering effort to stop the Bill going through.
If the law has not passed by the time the House prorogues – which could happen as early as Monday – it will be wiped out, leaving Remainers with little or no time to try again when Parliament returns in mid-October.
But if they manage to get a measure on the statute book ordering Mr Johnson to seek and accept an extension from the EU, he could opt to call an election rather than obey. October 24 is regarded by many as a possible polling day.