The ‘Remainer alliance’ looked to be descending into shambles today as they failed to agree how to ramp up pressure on Boris Johnson.
Labour, the SNP, the Lib Dems and other smaller parties met in Westminster for talks amid claims the attack on the embattled PM would be stepped up.
The Lib Dems had been pushing for a move to bind Mr Johnson more tightly, making him beg for a Brexit extension from the EU by Saturday.
But the gathering – which came as the Tories stage their conference in Manchester – broke up with no sign of agreement on the next steps.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford insisted the group was ‘united’ against No Deal, but admitted there was no prospect of a confidence vote imminently – despite his party urging one over the weekend.
Green MP Caroline Lucas said the focus would be on efforts to force the government to release Brexit documents, including more from the Yellowhammer dossier on No Deal scenarios.
‘I don’t think anyone is expecting a vote of no confidence this week but what we are expecting is to continue to discuss the best tactics and so forth in order to make sure that Boris Johnson doesn’t go ahead and defy the law and take us out with no deal,’ she said.
Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson had floated the idea of amending rebel legislation that currently obliges the premier to seek a delay if there is no agreement in place by October 19.
However, other parties were not willing to go along with the change. One Remainer MP told MailOnline before the meeting there was little appetite to ‘mess’ with the law.
Ministers have been on standby to travel back to London if an attempt is made to topple the PM by triggering a confidence vote.
They fear Speaker John Bercow will allow MPs free rein to try to hobble Mr Johnson’s efforts to get an EU deal in the hope of eventually cancelling Brexit altogether.
SNP Westminister leader Ian Blackford (centre) insisted the Remainer alliance was ‘united’ against No Deal, but admitted there was no prospect of a confidence vote imminently
Jeremy Corbyn (pictured leaving his London home today), the SNP, the Lib Dems and other smaller parties will meet in Westminster as they step up their attack on the embattled PM
Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson and SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford will be at the meeting
Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg yesterday savaged Mr Bercow, saying his recent conduct had ‘damaged the standing of the House of Commons in the eyes of the British public to the lowest point in modern history’.
Ms Swinson is understood to fear the current deadline – October 19 – does not leave enough time to stop a No Deal Brexit in the courts by the end of the month if the Tory leader refuses to ask for an extension.
How could the PM try to bypass the Remainer rebel Brexit law?
The Remainer rebel law obliges Boris Johnson to ask the EU for an extension if no agreement has been reached by October 19.
Various ways have been suggested for getting around the provisions – but they all appear fairly far-fetched.
Send two letters
The legislation dictates that the PM must send a letter to Brussels asking for an extension until January 31.
But Boris Johnson could opt to send two letters – one saying what Parliament had ordered him to do, and another stating why he did not believe the EU should grant a delay.
In reality, EU leaders already know the premier does not want more time, so it might to little to sway their decision.
Get MPs to vote for a deal
One of the more far-fetched ideas has been to propose a spurious deal to Parliament. If it was voted through, that would technically fulfil the terms of the legislation, although there would be no actual agreement with the EU.
However, Mr Johnson has a majority of minus 43 – and it is hard to see Remainers being tricked by the ploy.
Declare an emergency
The Civil Contingencies Act has provisions for ministers to get sweeping powers to deal with crises.
There have been claims Mr Johnson could use it to suspend the Benn Act until after October 31, allowing the UK to crash out with No Deal.
But lawyers have derided this scheme, saying the definition of an emergency is not met and courts would simply strike the move down.
Ignore the law
Mr Johnson could just disobey the law, and refuse to ask for an extension.
However, he would face resignations from – at the very least – Justice Secretary Robert Buckland.
The courts would step in and order him to comply, and could empower the Cabinet Secretary or – under one bizarre scenario – Speaker John Bercow – to send the letter on behalf of the government.
Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve says that if it came to it, the Queen would sack the PM and replace him with someone who would obey the law.
Mr Blackford called on the opposition parties yesterday to unite and bring down the Government this week to install a caretaker prime minister who would delay Brexit and avoid a No Deal departure at the end of next month.
He said it was not enough to ‘sit back and hope Boris Johnson doesn’t allow us to crash out without a deal’, adding: ‘We do not believe Johnson is going to extend Article 50 – and we won’t risk time running out.’
But the Lib Dems warned they would only back a vote of no-confidence if Mr Corbyn stepped aside and allowed a less divisive figure, such as Labour grandee Dame Margaret Beckett, to take charge of a so-called ‘government of national unity’.
And a Labour source made clear they wanted Mr Corbyn to be the ‘caretaker’ PM.
‘We haven’t called for a government of national unity. Instead, Jeremy has laid out the simplest and most democratic way to stop no deal, which would be a Corbyn-led caretaker administration to secure an extension and immediately call a general election so they people can decide our country’s future,’ the source said.
‘As the leader of the opposition, twice elected leader of one of the largest political parties in Europe and having secured over 40 per cent of the share of the vote in the 2017 election, it would be for Jeremy to lead any caretaker government.’
There had been signs the Labour Party was getting cold feet about trying to bring down the Government this week.
Education spokesman Angela Rayner told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show yesterday that Labour would not support a vote until after a new law kicked in next month requiring Mr Johnson to seek another Brexit delay. She added: ‘We want to make sure we get No Deal off the table before we do anything else.’
The Lib Dems and independent MPs have made it clear they will not install Mr Corbyn at No10 and are pushing for a compromise candidate.
Dame Margaret is the favourite, but others are also being canvassed, including Tory former chancellor Kenneth Clarke, ex-Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman and Tory former home secretary Amber Rudd.
Mr Rees-Mogg condemned the plot as a ‘Remoaner coup’. And Mr Johnson mocked the plotters, who went to the Supreme Court to secure their right to hold the Government to account on Brexit but now seem unsure what to do.
Commenting on last week’s toxic proceedings in the Commons, he said yesterday: ‘Parliament made a huge effort to come back early to debate Brexit. Fine.
‘But did you actually hear anything in those debates which advanced the store of human knowledge about Brexit? Absolutely not.’ Pressed on the threat of a no-confidence vote, he said the Government had already offered to set aside parliamentary time for a vote to trigger an election, only for Mr Corbyn to refuse.
If pro-Remain MPs pull back from a formal vote of no confidence they will consider alternatives to unsettle the PM during the Tory conference, with Plaid Cymru pushing for formal impeachment proceedings against Mr Johnson.
As the row raged at Westminster, Tory conference was at risk of being overshadowed by allegations about inappropriate behaviour by Mr Johnson.
He denied claims he had squeezed a journalist’s thigh under a table during a private lunch – and complained they were preventing him talking about buses.
The PM attempted to shrug off the allegations from Charlotte Edwardes – which date from when he was editor of the Spectator magazine in 1999 – as they threaten to derail the Tory conference in Manchester.
Asked in a TV interview if he had touched Ms Edwardes’ leg without permission, Mr Johnson said: ‘No, and I think what the public want to hear is what we are doing to level up and unite the country.’
Mr Johnson then gave a rambling answer about buses, before being asked whether he was accusing Ms Edwardes of making the story up.
‘I’m just saying what I’ve said. What the public want to hear is what we are doing for them and for the country and the investment in ways of uniting the country,’ he said.
A Downing Street spokesman said yesterday that the accusations made against Mr Johnson were ‘untrue’.
But Health Secretary Matt Hancock risked a damaging split by saying he knew Ms Edwardes to be ‘trustworthy’, while Amber Rudd said she agreed.
As the row raged at Westminster, Tory conference was at risk of being overshadowed by allegations of inappropriate behaviour by Mr Johnson (pictured on a visit in Manchester today)
Ministers fear Speaker John Bercow will allow MPs free rein to try to hobble Mr Johnson’s efforts to get an EU deal in the hope of eventually cancelling Brexit altogether
What are the confidence vote scenarios and does Corbyn have a path to victory?
Boris Johnson is way short of a majority in the Commons since he stripped the whip from 21 Tories who rebelled over No Deal Brexit – and Amber Rudd then quit in solidarity.
Mr Johnson challenged critics to table a vote of no confidence and face him in an election during stormy Commons clashes last week.
However, up until now opposition parties have refused to take up the offer – saying they want to wait until the Halloween Brexit deadline has been pushed back.
A Remainer law passed earlier this month obliges Mr Johnson to beg the EU for an extension if an agreement has not been reached by October 19.
Under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, when a PM loses such a battle there is a two-week period for someone else to win a confidence vote. If that does not happen an immediate election is triggered.
There have been fears that a no confidence vote could put Mr Johnson in control of the Brexit timetable, as he would be able to dictate the date for a general election if another PM who can secure a Commons majority does not emerge within a fortnight.
Here are the scenarios for what happens after the government loses a confidence vote:
Jeremy Corbyn secures a majority
Parliament’s Remainers decide that Mr Corbyn is their only option, making him best placed to succeed as PM.
As the numbers are on a knife-edge, a vote is called and Mr Corbyn scrapes through. All 245 Labour MPs swallow their doubts and endorse him as PM.
They are joined in the division lobbies by the SNP’s 35 MPs, and 18 Lib Dems MPs.
He picks up another 22 votes to take him over the 320 mark from a variety of sources. The four Plaid and one Green MP are relatively kindly disposed.
But the five-strong Independent Group led by former Tory minister Anna Soubry, and 32 independent MPs will be harder work. Ex-Labour MPs John Mann, a strong critic of the leader over anti-Semitism, and Brexit supporter Frank Field, are incredibly unlikely to come over.
It is possible Mr Corbyn could pick up a few supporters from the 22 former Tory Remainer rebels. Ex-Chancellor Ken Clarke has indicated that in extremis he could tolerate a short-lived Corbyn premiership.
Mr Corbyn goes to Brussels and secures a Brexit extension until January 31, then calls an election – which he is able to fight with the advantage of being ensconced in Downing Street.
The SNP appears to be on board with a Corbyn ‘caretaker’ government – but as this chart shows he will need many more MPs to fall into line to get himself over the winning line of 320 votes and into Downing Street. Mr Corbyn could need to pick up seven of the 22 Tory Remainer rebels stripped of the whip, and persuade half the 10 other independent politicians
Another ‘unity PM’ takes over
After Mr Johnson is defeated in an initial confidence vote, Mr Corbyn tries to put together a majority. But it soon becomes clear that he cannot get close to the numbers needed – as even some MPs in his own party will not tolerate him as PM.
Instead, under huge pressure from his own shadow cabinet, Mr Corbyn agrees to support a less controversial candidate as a temporary leader for the country.
Labour veteran Margaret Beckett and Tory grandee Ken Clarke have both been touted as potential candidates – partly because they are considered too old to want to stay around as premier for long.
No10 aides believe Amber Rudd has been positioning herself as a Chancellor in a Beckett administration.
The opposition parties mass behind the new PM, who comes into power with a mandate to extend the Brexit deadline and then call an election – possibly after a referendum.
No other PM emerges
Once Mr Johnson loses the confidence vote, the opposition parties think they have the numbers to install a replacement.
But they turn out to be mistaken.
Mr Corbyn finds the resistance to his premiership is stronger than he thought, with the LIb Dems refusing to fall into line.
But he in turn refuses to get behind any ‘unity’ candidate, insisting it is his constitutional right to be the next PM.
In these circumstances, a fortnight goes past with Mr Johnson still in No10.
At that point an election is triggered under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. Parliament is dissolved, and Mr Johnson gets to set the date of the ballot.
Remainers fear in these circumstances Parliament loses control as it is not sitting, and could be vulnerable to any tricks the government tries to pull to avoid delaying Brexit.