Fury at Labour plot to wreck Brexit: No10 slams opposition bid to sabotage withdrawal bill and force second referendum

  • Opposition MPs want to attach second referendum to Boris Johnson's Brexit deal
  • Sir Keir Starmer and John McDonnell back a referendum on the PM's deal
  • Mr Johnson will try to hold a 'meaningful vote' on his divorce deal on Tuesday
  • Sir Keir warned his party was preparing amendments to wreck any advance

Downing Street last night accused Labour of trying to cancel Brexit by sabotaging withdrawal legislation.

Boris Johnson wants to push his deal through the Commons by the end of this week to avoid Brussels offering another extension.

But Labour plans to hijack the Government’s legislation with amendments to keep Britain tied to the EU’s customs union – and to set up a second referendum.

The Democratic Unionist Party sparked further panic in No 10 last night by hinting that its ten MPs might support the customs union plan.

If either amendment passes, the Prime Minister might have to abandon the legislation entirely or risk losing the support of Tory Brexiteers. 

Boris Johnson wants to push his deal through the Commons by the end of this week to avoid Brussels offering another extension but Labour plans to hijack the Government’s legislation with amendments to keep Britain tied to the EU’s customs union -  and to set up a second referendum (pictured: Mr Johnson leaving Downing Street last week)

Boris Johnson wants to push his deal through the Commons by the end of this week to avoid Brussels offering another extension but Labour plans to hijack the Government's legislation with amendments to keep Britain tied to the EU's customs union -  and to set up a second referendum (pictured: Mr Johnson leaving Downing Street last week)

A pivotal week in the Commons starts today with another attempt to hold a vote on the revised withdrawal agreement. The Government effectively abandoned calling a vote on Saturday, leaving Speaker John Bercow to decide whether to permit a second try.

As ministers said they believed they had the numbers to win the vote:

Tory former Cabinet minister Amber Rudd pledged to back the deal;

  • Oliver Letwin, who was behind the amendment that sank Saturday's meaningful vote, also gave his support;
  • Tory rebel Rory Stewart suggested he would vote for a customs union;
  • Brussels indicated it would delay a decision on an extension until it was clear whether Mr Johnson would win;
  • Scottish judges will hear a legal challenge this morning on whether the Prime Minister broke the law by telling EU leaders he did not want a delay;
  • Michael Gove said he was triggering Operation Yellowhammer plans to handle a No Deal Brexit.

The Prime Minister will publish the Withdrawal Agreement Bill today under the assumption that the Commons starts voting on it tomorrow.

But Keir Starmer warned that opposition MPs were preparing dozens of amendments that could effectively wreck the legislation.

Keir Starmer warned that opposition MPs were preparing dozens of amendments that could effectively wreck the legislation (pictured: Sir Keir on The Andrew Marr show on Sunday)

Keir Starmer warned that opposition MPs were preparing dozens of amendments that could effectively wreck the legislation (pictured: Sir Keir on The Andrew Marr show on Sunday)

Labour's Brexit spokesman said the party would order its MPs to support efforts on forcing a second referendum; on staying in the customs union; and on blocking No Deal if trade talks fail by the end of the transition period.

A No 10 source said Labour should come clean: 'Do MPs want to respect the referendum like they claim to and leave the EU with a good new deal on October 31?

'Or, as with Labour's torturous policies on a customs union or a second referendum, do they want to frustrate and cancel Brexit altogether?'

The support of the DUP could allow the customs union amendment to pass. Its Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson yesterday warned Mr Johnson the votes of its MPs were 'crucial on the issue of Brexit'.

He said the DUP 'does not seek a second referendum' but a Brexit where the UK leaves 'as one nation'. This opened the door to supporting the plan to keep the whole of the UK in the customs union, rather than creating separate arrangements for Northern Ireland.

Brexiteers oppose the move because it would restrict Britain's ability to strike independent trade deals.

Sir Keir yesterday suggested Labour and the DUP could work together. Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, he said: 'I would openly invite the DUP to talk to us.

'If you want to work with us to improve the situation we're in, our door is open to that discussion.'

Some of 21 rebel former Tories, including former chancellors Philip Hammond and Ken Clarke, could back the customs union plan. Mr Clarke tabled a similar proposal that was narrowly by just three votes in April.

Gloria De Piero, a Labour MP who Mr Johnson had hoped would back his deal, also signalled her support.

She tweeted: 'A customs union amendment is what I'll be working for. I am convinced we can get majority support for it. It would enable us to stay true to the Labour manifesto every Labour MP was elected on.'

John McDonnell told Sky News on Sunday that the second referendum amendment would have a better chance of success if it was tabled by backbenchers

John McDonnell told Sky News on Sunday that the second referendum amendment would have a better chance of success if it was tabled by backbenchers

Sir Keir added: 'I suspect there'll be dozens of amendments put down this week. We will work through all of them, we will decide which ones we're supporting.

'We've been arguing for a very long time now for a customs union with the EU and for single market alignment.

'There are other amendments that are really important because there is a trap door to No Deal at the end of 2020 that we need to deal with and close.

'And of course we need an amendment to say that whatever deal gets through it should be subject to a referendum where that deal is put to the public and they're asked, 'Do you want to leave on these terms of would you rather remain in the EU?' So this week's going to be busy.'

Steve Baker, the leader of the European Research Group of Brexiteer Tory MPs, has suggested they could remove their support for Mr Johnson's deal if it was significantly amended.

He urged the group to support the Withdrawal Agreement Bill and 'vote for it through to completion provided that that legislation is not wrecked'.

Operation Yellowhammer starts NOW: Michael Gove moves hundreds of civil servants to step up No Deal preparations and declares UK WILL leave on October 31

By Claire Ellicott

Michael Gove has triggered No Deal Brexit contingency planning after MPs voted to force the Government to request a delay to Article 50.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster insisted that the UK would leave the EU by October 31 despite the setback.

But he said he would begin Operation Yellowhammer – the Government's preparations for a departure without a deal.

Hundreds of civil servants were last night moved from their regular duties to join the operations.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: 'We have now entered the final, most intensive stage of the Government's preparations for leaving the EU without a deal. 

'This makes sure we will have done everything possible to prepare for leaving the EU without a deal on October 31. Operation Yellowhammer is a cross-government programme of work to ensure that Government is ready.

'It ensures that we are prepared to mitigate impacts of even the potential reasonable worst-case scenario if on October 31 the UK leaves the EU without a deal.'

Asked yesterday if he could guarantee that the UK would leave the EU by Halloween, Mr Gove said: 'Yes, that's our determined policy. We know that the EU want us to leave, we know that we have a deal that allows us to leave.'

He told Sky News's Sophy Ridge On Sunday: 'We are going to leave by October 31st. We have the means and the ability to do so.

'I think the mood in the country is clear and the Prime Minister's determination is absolute and I am with him in this, we must leave by October 31st.'

Mr Gove claimed that Saturday's parliamentary defeat had actually increased the risk of No Deal because 'we cannot guarantee that the European Council will grant an extension'.

Asked yesterday if he could guarantee that the UK would leave the EU by Halloween, Mr Gove said: 'Yes, that's our determined policy. We know that the EU want us to leave, we know that we have a deal that allows us to leave' (pictured: in the Commons on Saturday)

Asked yesterday if he could guarantee that the UK would leave the EU by Halloween, Mr Gove said: 'Yes, that's our determined policy. We know that the EU want us to leave, we know that we have a deal that allows us to leave' (pictured: in the Commons on Saturday)

He added: 'I will, later today, be chairing a Cabinet committee meeting... in order to ensure that the next stage of our exit preparations and our preparedness for No Deal is accelerated.

'We are preparing to ensure that, if no extension is granted, we have done everything possible in order to prepare to leave without a deal.'

Last month, the Government released a stark assessment of the possible effects of a No Deal after MPs demanded that it be made public.

The document warned of major disruption to traffic and trade, shortages of food and issues obtaining certain medicines, as well as disorder in Northern Ireland.

Fury at Labour plot to wreck Brexit: No10 slams opposition bid to sabotage withdrawal bill

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