France today said the EU will not agree a Brexit delay beyond October 31 amid claims Boris Johnson will defy the law and ‘sabotage’ an extension if he is unable to strike a deal with Brussels.
Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French foreign minister, said the Brexit meltdown in the UK was ‘very worrying’ as he said an extension would not be possible under the current circumstances.
‘We are not going to do (extend) this every three months,’ he said.
His comments represent a potential hammer blow to Remain-backing MPs who have passed a law which will force the PM to ask the EU to postpone Brexit if the two sides have not struck an agreement in the run up to the Halloween deadline.
Mr Johnson has said he will not ask for an extension in any circumstances but Mr Le Drian’s remarks suggest that even if he did, the request may be denied.
It came as Mr Johnson and the Tories surged to a 14 point lead over Labour in a new poll as his ‘do or die’ pledge to leave the EU with or without a deal continued to resonate with Leave voters.
The Conservative Party is polling at 35 per cent in a new YouGov survey with Labour far behind on 21 per cent, the Lib Dems on 19 per cent and the Brexit Party on 12 per cent.
But while Mr Johnson may be surging in the polls, his Brexit strategy continues to cause chaos in Westminster.
Today it emerged that the PM is considering a plan to defy the rebel anti-No Deal law which is expected to be given Royal Assent as early as tomorrow.
Under the plan, the Prime Minister will try to agree a new deal with Brussels at a summit on October 17 but should he fail he will then refuse to ask for an extension.
Downing Street believes such a move would guarantee an immediate judicial review in the Supreme Court with the fate of Brexit placed in the hands of judges just days before the October 31 deadline.
The emergence of the bombshell strategy, detailed in The Sunday Times, came as Amber Rudd resigned from the Cabinet and surrendered the Tory whip.
Ms Rudd said she could not continue to serve as work and pensions secretary after the PM sacked 21 Tory Remainer rebels for backing a bid to block No Deal, accusing him of an ‘assault on decency and democracy’.
Ms Rudd said there was ‘no evidence’ that Mr Johnson was trying to strike a deal with Brussels as she claimed this morning that ’80 to 90 per cent’ of the government’s efforts were now concentrated on preparing for a No Deal split from the EU.
But Sajid Javid, the Chancellor, struck a defiant tone today as he said ‘the government will not change its policy’ over keeping a No Deal split as an option.
Meanwhile, Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, said the government will ‘test to the limit’ the legislation passed by MPs in comments which suggest ministers will try to work around the law.
Ms Rudd’s decision to walk away represented another hammer blow to Mr Johnson’s premiership, coming just days after the PM’s own brother Jo quit the government over Brexit.
Downing Street announced this morning that Therese Coffey had replaced Ms Rudd as Work and Pensions Secretary.
Boris Johnson (pictured getting onto a plane to leave Balmoral yesterday) is setting himself up for a major constitutional battle
Carrie Symonds visited the Queen at Balmoral with Mr Johnson, and was also seen getting onto the plane
French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said a delay would not be possible ‘under the current conditions’
Amber Rudd, pictured leaving her London home this morning, quit the government and surrendered the Tory whip last night
Mr Johnson’s approach seems to be paying off among some voters, with the Tories at 35%, 14 points above Labour
Mr Johnson will tomorrow try for a second time to trigger a snap general election as he urges MPs to back going to the country on October 15.
But opposition leaders have united and agreed they will not support an early poll taking place until a Brexit delay has been formally agreed with the EU to stop Britain crashing out of the bloc in just 53 days.
However, Downing Street has worked up a fall back plan should Mr Johnson’s bid for an election fail.
The plan would see him ignore an anti-No Deal law passed by MPs and peers last week.
He would go to the final EU summit before Brexit and seek an agreement but should one not be forthcoming he would then refuse to ask for the delay the law states he must.
Such a move would spark a political, constitutional and legal firestorm because the PM would be actin in open defiance of the law.
Number 10 believes the matter would then be referred to the Supreme Court. Legal experts believe Mr Johnson could ultimately risk a jail sentence if he fails to comply with the law.
A Number 10 source said: ‘If there isn’t a deal by the 18th we will sabotage the extension.’
Meanwhile, a Whitehall source said Mr Johnson’s government was prepared to ‘take a chainsaw to anything’ to make sure the UK leaves the EU on time.
Any attempt to ignore the anti-No Deal law passed by Parliament would prompt a furious backlash from MPs and peers.
Last night Tory MPs warned the PM that they would resign the whip if he went through with such a strategy.
Kevin Hollinrake, a Conservative backbencher, told The Sunday Telegraph: ‘You would see a significant number of Conservative MPs resigning the whip, including me.’
Number 10 believes that while the move would be unpopular in Westminster, it would resonate well with the Leave voters it wants to win over ahead of an early general election.
It came as Ms Rudd quit the government and surrendered the Tory whip as the UK’s political meltdown continued apace.
Ms Rudd said she ‘no longer believes leaving with a deal is the government’s main objective’.
‘He’s so focused on one element, preparing for No Deal, he’s not engaging enough with the need to get a deal,’ she said.
‘My mother used to say: ‘Judge a man by what he does and not by what he says’. I am concerned that he’s not doing enough to make true what he says is his priority.’
She also labelled his decision to eject 21 MPs from the Conservative party an ‘act of political vandalism’ and accused him of ‘unwisely’ putting parliament against the people.
Describing the decision to remove the whip from MPs as an ‘assault on decency and democracy’, she said: ‘Number 10 wants the 21 not to be there as MPs because they need those seats to be occupied by people who support their No Deal plan.’
Ms Rudd’s tweet tonight with her letter to the Prime Minister, a long-time friend and ally
Then Home Secretary Amber Rudd (left) and then Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson (right) wait for Theresa May to deliver her speech on the final day of the Conservative Party annual conference in October 2017
She added he ‘should not be putting parliament against the people’.
‘The constant escalation of the combat between parliament and the people leading to protests is really unwise and will lead to dangerous outcomes. I have said this to him and I have been ignored.’
Last night Tory sources said Ms Rudd’s brother Roland, a multimillionaire lobbyist who was a leading figure in the Remain campaign, had exerted ‘huge amounts of pressure on his sister to walk, it was coming from all sides, her family and the MPs’.
In her resignation letter to the Prime Minister, Ms Rudd said: ‘I no longer believe leaving with a deal is the Government’s main objective. The Government is expending a lot of energy to prepare for no deal, but I have not seen the same level of intensity go into talks with the European Union.
‘I must also address the assault on decency and democracy that took place last week when you sacked 21 loyal One Nation Conservatives. This short-sighted culling of my colleagues has stripped the Party of broadminded and dedicated Conservative MPs. I cannot support this act of political vandalism’.
Last night a furious Number 10 source said: ‘As the polls show, the voters are quite happy for the PM to get rid of people who don’t want us to sort out Brexit.
‘There are plenty of talented younger MPs to replace any deadwood.’
Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, said his former colleague knew what she was signing up for.
Defending the decision to sack the 21 rebel MPs, Mr Raab said this morning that Mr Johnson was ‘right to restore some discipline’.
He told Sky News: ‘In fairness, when she took the Cabinet role everyone was asked ‘do you accept and will you sign up to and do you support the Prime Minister’s plan to leave by October, preferably with a deal but if not come what may?”
‘We all accepted that and I think that the Prime Minister was right to restore some discipline and I think he is right to expect it from his top team.’
Mr Johnson has been accused of planning to set the EU ‘on fire’ as the only way to keep his grip on power and hit next month’s Brexit deadline.
Last week he said he would rather be ‘dead in a ditch’ than obey Remainer MPs, making his resignation seem inevitable if no alternative can be found – unless he breaks the law by simply ignoring the will of Parliament.
Dominic Raab this morning told Sky News that Ms Rudd knew what she was signing up for when she took a role in Mr Johnson’s Cabinet
Senior civil servants started making preparations on Friday for Mr Johnson to leave Downing Street as early as tomorrow – giving Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn the chance to form a rival administration.
But Downing Street sources insist that Mr Johnson’s immediate resignation is not under consideration.
The Prime Minister will tomorrow make a second attempt to try to break the deadlock by asking the Commons to back a general election on October 15.
But Labour’s opposition to a pre-Brexit poll means he is likely to fail, and one option being considered in Downing Street is for Mr Johnson to trigger a vote of no confidence in himself in order to get an Election.
Number 10 is also considering adopting a ‘kick us out strategy’ of disrupting proceedings in Brussels to make sure Brexit happens on time.
If Brussels fails to strike an acceptable deal the UK Government would use legal chicanery to undermine the EU from within.
However, last night a senior source close to the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier described the plan as ‘desperate’, while another likened Mr Johnson to ‘the drunk at the party’ and accused him of ‘trying to get thrown out by setting the whole house on fire’.
Amber Rudd waves farewell to a Government in crisis
Amber Rudd’s departure from the Cabinet marks the end of a whirlwind three years at the heart of government for a woman once touted as a future prime minister.
The Hastings and Rye MP was appointed home secretary on July 13 2016 after showing herself to be a staunch supporter during Theresa May’s leadership campaign.
On her watch she faced the Westminster Bridge attack, Manchester Arena attack, and the poisoning of the Skripals in Salisbury, but was sacked in the wake of the Windrush scandal in April 2018.
The fall-out from the controversial crackdown on illegal migrants found that at least 60 UK citizens had been wrongly deported to the Caribbean.
However, an official probe in May last year cleared Ms Rudd of wrongdoing, finding she had been given the wrong advice on the existence of deportation targets by civil servants.
After just six months on the backbenches, she was back in Theresa May’s Cabinet as Work and Pensions Secretary after Esther McVey threw in the towel over the draft Brexit deal.
Despite being a vocal Remain campaigner and a critic of Boris Johnson, the new Prime Minister re-appointed her as Work and Pensions Secretary in his first Cabinet.
She famously said of Mr Johnson during a television debate: ‘Boris is the life and soul of the party, but he is not the man you want driving you home at the end of the evening.’
Perhaps it was her concern for women’s welfare that prompted Mr Johnson to reappoint her to the role of Minister for Women and Equalities, a role she held for four months under Mrs May.
In her resignation letter, she criticised the ‘culling’ of 21 senior Tory rebels who voted against the Government this week.
She wrote: ‘Britain’s body politic is under attack from both sides of the ideological debate. I will now play whatever role I can to help return it to a better place.’
Ms Rudd went into politics in her 40s, after a career as an investment banker, venture capitalist and financial journalist, to ‘get a grip on her life’.
She was referred to as ‘the silver spoon’ in the restaurant reviews of the late AA Gill, to whom she was married for five years and with whom she has a son and a daughter.
A former Cheltenham Ladies’ College pupil and Edinburgh University history graduate, she was given a role as an extra in Four Weddings And A Funeral by director Richard Curtis, who said he hired Ms Rudd because ‘she knew a lot of dukes and earls’.
Former prime minister David Cameron also took a shine to her, placing her on his controversial A-list of candidates, and she took Hastings and Rye from Labour in 2010.
The 55-year-old rose rapidly through the ranks, promoted to parliamentary private secretary to then-chancellor George Osborne two years later.
A job as junior energy minister came in 2014, and she entered Cabinet as secretary of state for energy and climate change in 2015.
Her rise was so swift, some political commentators had her marked up as a potential successor to Mr Cameron.
Following her resignation, Ms Rudd told the Sunday Times she would stand in Hastings and Rye in the next election as an independent conservative.
Ms Rudd might have a fight on her hands – in the 2017 general election she saw her majority reduced to just 346.
Under the disruption strategy, Mr Johnson’s allies believe that, by refusing to appoint a UK Commissioner to Brussels beyond the end of October, from the start of November the EU will ‘no longer be legally constituted’ – unless they vote to reduce the number of member countries to 27.
This process would then be vetoed by the UK, which his allies think the EU ‘cannot accommodate’ and would therefore kick the UK out.
After a torrid week of high drama for the Prime Minister, in other developments:
- Downing Street sources described as hysterical a warning by former chief prosecutor Lord Macdonald, who said ‘the law should be followed’ by the PM. The crossbench peer said: ‘A refusal in the face of that would amount to contempt of court which could find that person in prison’, adding that it was ‘not an extreme outcome’.
- Special adviser to the Government Dominic Cummings told aides to hold their nerve in the face of the Remainer ‘meltdown’ and be ‘cool like Fonzies’ and they would ultimately ‘trounce Corbyn’.
- Downing Street plans to suspend Parliament as early as tomorrow evening if MPs vote down Mr Johnson’s second attempt to trigger an election.
- Last night, a new poll showed the Conservatives had extended their lead over Labour as pro-Brexit voters return to the party. The Opinium poll for the Observer newspaper puts the Tories on 35, Labour on 25, the Liberal Democrats on 17 and the Brexit Party on 13.
- Theresa May emerged as the figurehead in a campaign to reverse Mr Johnson’s controversial purging of rebellious Tory MPs.
- Furious Downing Street aides blamed ‘wrecker’ MPs for destroying nascent talks with European capitals about a two-year time limit on the hated EU backstop.
- Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom announced that the Tories would run a candidate against John Bercow at the next election, ending his career as Speaker.
- Nigel Farage offered the Conservatives a pact to ‘destroy Corbyn’ if Mr Johnson goes for a No Deal Brexit.
- Former Chancellor Philip Hammond, who lost the party whip after rebelling last week, accused rivals of trying to ‘smear’ him after The Mail on Sunday was handed a dossier of allegations against him
- Leaked Cabinet details showed that Michael Gove is preparing to mobilise 1,600 troops to drive petrol tankers to deal with fuel shortages in the event of no deal.
On Friday evening Mr Cummings warned Government special advisers ‘we have a different interpretation of the legislation’ barring a No Deal Brexit, going even further than the Mr Johnson, who said on Friday that the Bill only obliged the Government to delay our EU departure ‘in theory’.
The source said that, while Mr Corbyn was ‘hiding’ from an election, Downing Street and Conservative Campaign HQ were ‘ramping up’ preparations for a vote.
Downing Street has begun official negotiations with executives from the BBC, ITV and Sky over live TV electoral events, including a head-to-head between Mr Johnson and Mr Corbyn.
The source added that Brussels would only grant the UK a Brexit extension if the UK engaged in ‘sincere co-operation’ – which is not the plan. ‘If we engage in obstructive behaviour it would lead to the undermining of EU interests and would leave them questioning the UK’s membership’, the source said.
Lib Dem MEP Luisa Porritt said: ‘Trying to get thrown out by setting the whole house on fire is inconsistent with the Government’s stated aim, which is to negotiate a deal. Boris Johnson increasingly resembles the drunk at the party.
‘His reckless threats risk undermining future trade talks before they have even begun.’
However, the Government source added: ‘Nobody should be in any doubt that we will leave on October 31.’
Dominic Cummings, 47, (left outside his home in London yesterday) is understood to have a ‘different interpretation’ of the meaning and effect of the rebel anti-No Deal bill – which is expected to receive royal assent on Monday. It comes as Mr Johnson (right, in Scotland yesterday) said he would not entertain seeking another deadline extension from Brussels
Amber Rudd resigns with ‘great sadness’ but ‘no longer believes getting a deal from the EU is the Government’s main objective’
In her letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Amber Rudd said she was resigning with ‘great sadness’, but that she no longer believes getting a deal from the EU is the Government’s main objective.
The full letter said: ‘It is with great sadness that I am resigning as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and Minister for Women and Equalities.
‘It has been an honour to serve in a department that supports millions of people and can be such a force for good. I would like to pay tribute to the thousands of people who work for the DWP across the country. They are committed public servants and I am proud of the work that we have done together over the last 10 months to create a more compassionate welfare system.
‘I would also like to thank you and the Chancellor of the Exchequer for your support in the recent Spending Review. I am so pleased that you committed to spend millions more supporting the most vulnerable in society, and I hope that the Government will stay committed to going further at the next fiscal event, building on the work the department has done.
‘This has been a difficult decision. I joined your Cabinet in good faith; accepting that ‘no deal’ had to be on the table, because it was the means by which we would have the best chance of achieving a new deal to leave on October 31.
‘However, I no longer believe leaving with a deal is the Government’s main objective.
‘The Government is expending a lot of energy to prepare for ‘no deal’ but I have not seen the same level of intensity go into our talks with the European Union, who have asked us to present alternative arrangements to the Irish backstop.
‘The updates I have been grateful to receive from your office have not, regretfully, provided me with the reassurances I sought.
‘I must also address the assault on decency and democracy that took place last week when you sacked 21 talented, loyal One Nation Conservatives.
‘This short-sighted culling of my colleagues has stripped the party of broad-minded and dedicated Conservative MPs I cannot support this act of political vandalism.
‘Therefore, it is with regret that I am also surrendering the Conservative whip.
‘Britain’s body politic is under attack from both sides of the ideological debate. I will now play whatever role I can to help return it to a better place.
‘I have been lucky to have had extraordinary support from my Conservative Association since I was adopted as their candidate in 2006. Three times they helped elect me as their MP, keeping Labour at bay through nail-biting campaigns.
‘I remain a proud conservative and will continue to champion the values of fairness and compassion, and to support my constituents of Hastings and Rye.