A growing number of senior Tory rebels have signalled they are now prepared to back urgent legislation to thwart a no-deal Brexit after Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament.
In an escalation of the civil war in the Tory party, David Gauke, the former justice secretary, became the latest senior Conservative to urge his colleagues to act immediately rather than wait to see if Johnson could deliver an alternative to the backstop in the 30-day period proffered by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.
The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said parliament would “legislate rapidly” on Tuesday next week to try to stop a no-deal Brexit and pledged to also launch an attempt to stop prorogation.
A significant number of Conservative MPs said on Thursday they were now prepared to back legislation in the Commons next week, which they may otherwise have viewed as premature.
Echoing earlier comments by the former chancellor Philip Hammond, Gauke said he believed Tory MPs could not afford to wait.
“It does look like next week is essentially the only opportunity parliament will have to maintain some control over this process and ensure that it has a say before we leave without a deal,” he said. “I don’t think one can rule out the possibility of parliament being able to find a way through this.”
Margot James, the former digital minister, said she had previously been minded to give Johnson time to negotiate. “I had wanted to give the PM until the third week of September – the 30 days he agreed with Merkel – to surprise us all with an alternative to the backstop that would be negotiable with the EU,” she said.
“Also, I was hoping we would find a way of sitting through at least part of the conference recess. However, that option has been fatally undermined by the decision to prorogue parliament for far longer than normal. I will therefore support any legislative action that is possible next week as it is quite likely that it could be parliament’s only chance to impact on how we leave the EU.”
James, who resigned shortly before the summer recess, said the prorogation, coupled with the resignation of George Young, a government whip in the Lords, had been a tipping point for her. Lord Young resigned earlier on Thursday, saying he was “very unhappy at the timing and length of the prorogation and its motivation”.
James said: “For him to have no place in the government demonstrates with deeply depressing clarity just what a minority government this has become, its only mandate a vote from around 90,000 members of the Conservative party, a third of which joined since the referendum, and who are not representative of the country as a whole.”
Richard Harrington, the former business minister who quit in March to support efforts to stop no deal, confirmed he would vote with Tory rebels next week. He announced on Thursday that he would step down as an MP at the next election, saying he was retiring rather than quitting in protest at Brexit. He said he believed he needed to make his intentions clear due to the possibility of a snap election.
Jonathan Djanogly, one of the MPs who backed Theresa May’s Brexit deal as well as efforts to stop no deal, said he was angered by the lack of opportunity for scrutiny of Johnson’s plans. “Legalities of shutting down parliament apart, no deal has no democratic backing, so stopping debate on the issue is morally wrong in my book,” he said.
“Even if you support a no-deal Brexit, surely you would want government no-deal preparations to be scrutinised. For instance, my own Brexit select committee will not be allowed to sit to question ministers on the adequacy of Project Yellowhammer [the preparations for no deal]. This is a big mistake.”
Guto Bebb, one of the handful of Conservatives who has backed the People’s Vote campaign, said: “As Conservatives we prize loyalty. But it has become increasingly clear that our loyalty must be to our party’s long-term values and not to the man who leads the party at this time.
“I will be using my vote in parliament next week to do that. I know many of my Conservative colleagues, many of whom have never before defied the official whip of the party leadership, will be doing the same.”
Several other no-deal sceptic Tories said they still wanted to give Johnson time to get a deal before they were prepared to vote against him. Victoria Prentis, one of the key backers of Rory Stewart’s leadership campaign, said: “I am still likely to give him [Johnson] the benefit of the doubt next week. He has promised that he will get a deal; I want to give him the time to get a deal.”
Some said they believed they would still have time to act before no deal, even in October. Gillian Keegan said: “I am very much against no deal but I also very much want to vote for a deal. We are in uncharted territory but I do believe we have time, even in the last week of October, to find a way to stop no deal if it really looks like that is where we are headed.”
Others who have said they will continue to back the prime minister include Nicholas Soames, Richard Benyon and Tobias Elllwood, all of whom have spoken out against no deal.
Labour said it intended to play a central role in any legislative fightback. Corbyn told Sky News: “We will be back in parliament on Tuesday to challenge Boris Johnson on what I think is a smash-and-grab raid against our democracy. He’s trying to suspend parliament in order to prevent a serious discussion and a serious debate to prevent a no-deal Brexit.
“What we’re going to do is try to politically stop him on Tuesday with a parliamentary process in order to legislate to prevent a no-deal Brexit and also to try to prevent him shutting down parliament during this utterly crucial period.”
Corbyn said he was confident there was enough time in parliament to introduce legislation. “We believe we can do it, otherwise we wouldn’t be trying to do it,” he said.
Labour later released a joint statement with the SNP, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, the Independent Group for Change and the Green party, saying: “It is our view that there is a majority in the House of Commons that does not support this prorogation, and we demand that the prime minister reverses this decision immediately or allows MPs to vote on whether there should be one.”