'Stand up and be counted': Conservative rebels prepare to block Boris Johnson from forcing through a no-deal Brexit

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  • The House of Commons will vote on Thursday on whether to neutralise Boris Johnson’s power to force through a no-deal Brexit.
  • Members of Parliament will vote on a measure which aims to prevent the next prime minister, likely to be Johnson, from shutting down parliament in October to force a no-deal exit.
  • Conservative rebels told Business Insider they are quietly confident of victory in this afternoon’s votes although it is expected to be close.
  • Four Cabinet ministers, including Chancellor Philip Hammond, are set to abstain, providing cover for those MPs planning to break the government whip, Business Insider understands.
  • The Office for Budget Responsibility has warned that a no-deal Brexit would push the UK into recession.

LONDON – Parliament could dramatically remove Boris Johnson’s power to force a no-deal Brexit before he has even become prime minister in a crunch House of Commons vote today.

Members of Parliament will vote on a measure, called the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, which in its current form aims to prevent the next prime minister from suspending parliament in October to force a no-deal exit.

It passed by just one vote last week before it was approved and beefed up by the House of Lords on Wednesday. Now MPs must approve it for a final time in amended form, or it will be thrown out.

If passed, the Bill would effectively block Johnson proroguing Parliament, by obliging MPs to sit for a number of days in October for debates on the government’s progress towards restoring a government in Northern Ireland.

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow confirmed this morning that he had selected the amendment for a House of Commons vote. It is being fronted by Conservative MP Alistair Burt and Labour’s Hilary Benn, among others.

A group of rebel Conservative MPs, led by former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, are moving to back the amendment now because they believe it could be one of their last opportunities to stop no-deal.

Conservative rebels told Business Insider they are quietly confident of victory in this afternoon’s votes.

Four Cabinet ministers, including Chancellor Philip Hammond, are set to abstain, providing cover for those MPs planning to break the government whip.

Additionally, some MPs who Tory rebels were not counting among their numbers appear ready to break rank, meaning the majority for Grieve’s amendment could be larger than his allies anticipated.

Conservative MP Keith Simpson was called to the Whips’ Office on Tuesday morning amid rumours he was planning to vote against the government, despite not being on a list of prospective rebels compiled by Remainer Tory MPs.

Here is the amendment

READ MORE: The 5 big problems Britain’s next prime minister will have to deal with on his first day

One former Conservative minister, who intends to support the amendment, told Business Insider that his colleagues have “got to stand up and be counted” as they are running out of time to prevent no-deal.

“There are not many opportunities in terms of time and mechanisms. If anything, it is too little too late,” they told Business Insider.

They added that defeating the government on Thursday would be a “show of strength” that could deter Johnson from pursuing no-deal.

“If he doesn’t feel he can get away with it, he won’t go for it… You can change the way he calculates his options by showing strength.”

They urged current Cabinet ministers like Philip Hammond and David Gauke to back the amendment. “It’s not like Julian Smith (May’s Chief Whip) will take you aside and say you’ll be demoted next week. They’re going to be sacked next week anyway.”

Johnson has repeatedly refused to rule out the prospect of suspending parliament, and is reportedly considering a plan to hold a Queen’s Speech in November, which would shut down the Commons while the UK left the EU and prevent MPs from being able to act.

READ MORE: Boris Johnson is considering shutting down Parliament for 2 weeks to force a no-deal Brexit

Parliament goes into recess at the end of next week – when either Boris Johnson or his leadership rival Jeremy Hunt will have been announced as the next prime minister. It does not return until September, at which point the October 31 Brexit deadline will be fast approaching, especially given that parliament is currently scheduled to have another recess in mid-October.

It is unclear whether there is enough support from rebel Tory MPs to form a majority in today’s vote.

One Conservative MP who resigned as a minister to vote for legislation designed to prevent no-deal Brexit earlier this year said they were unsure how they’d vote on Thursday, as they believed it might be too soon to rebel against the government, with a new prime minister yet to take office.

But BBC Newsnight reported that some ministers could today quit the government to back the Grieve measure today.

Johnson laid out his Brexit plan in more detail in an interview with ITV News on Wednesday. He said he wants a “standstill” arrangement with the EU which would maintain tariff-free trade, and then negotiations to solve the Irish border issue afterwards, as part of wider trade talks. The “standstill” would end significantly before the general election in 2022, Johnson said.

No-deal Brexit would lead to another recession

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) – which provides the government with independent economic analysis – warned on Thursday that a no-deal Brexit would likely push the UK into recession next year.

The OBR said that leaving the EU without a deal would cause UK economic growth to fall by two per cent by the end of 2020, and inflict a yearly £30 billion hit to public finances.

Reacting, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said: “This warning makes it even more imperative MPs from across Parliament back today’s amendments to try and block the next Prime Minister from shutting down Parliament to force through a no-deal Brexit.”

Labour MP Jo Stevens, who supports the Best For Britain campaign to stop Brexit, said: “You can’t have Brexit and an end to austerity. It’s clear that no-deal would devastate our public finances. “The Government keep telling us there’s no money left yet we’re still spending huge sums of money preparing for a no-deal cliff-edge.

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