United Kingdom: Tories clash over ‘dictatorial’ Brexit plan

Bloomberg London | Updated on June 17, 2019 Published on June 17, 2019

PM hopeful Dominic Raab said that he might suspend the UK Parliament if the House of Commons tries to delay Brexit again.

Tory rivals battling to be the next UK Prime Minister, traded insults over Brexit in the first TV debate of the party leadership contest, as front-runner Boris Johnson was mocked for refusing to take part.

During the 90-minute Channel 4 broadcast on Sunday, Conservative candidates argued over the radical option of suspending Parliament as a last resort to deliver a no-deal Brexit.

It is an idea that has split the contenders and risks sparking a wider revolt that could fatally undermine the next leader before he has even taken office. Johnson, however, was unable to give his view as he declined to join the debate. His absence was marked in the studio with an empty lectern on the stage.

Britain is due to exit the European Union by the end of October and the leading candidates to replace Theresa May as the premier are all pledging to renegotiate her Brexit deal.


Johnson and one of his rivals, Dominic Raab, have promised to take the UK out of the bloc on October 31 even if no deal has been struck in time, potentially causing an economic crash that would hit the pound and send property prices tumbling.

Other contenders for the Tory crown argue that MPs will never allow a no-deal split — which prompted Raab to threaten to suspend Parliament in order to stop the House of Commons delaying Brexit again. Johnson has not yet ruled out the draconian measure.

Also read: Brexit delay means defeat: Boris Johnson

During the debate, Home Secretary Sajid Javid led the attacks on Raab over his suggestion. “We are not selecting a dictator of our country, we are selecting a Prime Minister,” Javid said.

Raab and his one-time ally Michael Gove then traded blows over the same issue. Raab insisted the option should not be ruled out, accusing Gove of allowing Brexit to be delayed already and telling him: “You would buckle”, but Gove countered: “You cannot take Britain out of the European Union against the will of Parliament.”

It was a passionate exchange, with the two men talking across each other as they tried to get their messages out. The outsider in the race, Rory Stewart, Britain’s International Aid Minister, accused his colleagues of engaging in a macho showdown.

Government under threat

The issue has also galvanized opposition from pro-Europeans more widely in the UK’s ruling Tory party. Rebel Conservatives are threatening to overthrow the next Prime Minister if he closes Parliament as a step to force through a ‘no-deal’ Brexit.

Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd said enough of her Tory party colleagues would bring down the government if the leader intended to push through an exit without a deal.

There are number of colleagues who have gone public saying they would consider doing that, and there are a number I know of privately who say that,” Rudd said in a BBC interview. “Any candidate needs to factor that in as well into their strategy for the next few months.

‘Where is Boris?’

Conservative members of Parliament are holding a series of secret ballots to whittle down the field of candidates from 10 to two. The final pair will then be put to a postal vote of the party’s 1,60,000 grass roots members and the winner will be announced in late July.

Also read: Boris Johnson takes the lead in first round of contest to replace British PM

Last week, Johnson dominated the first of the MPs votes, winning the backing of 114 of his colleagues. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt came a distant second with 43 votes, while Stewart only narrowly escaped elimination on 19 votes.

Stewart was arguably the main winner of Johnson’s decision not to show up to the Sunday debate. He received warm applause from the studio audience and praise from commentators on social media for his confession that he would be a “frail” human who makes mistakes, changes his mind, but wants to restore honesty and trust to politics.

Also read: EU warns UK must pay bill even in ‘no deal’ Brexit

Before the broadcast, Johnson said a six-way discussion could be too noisy and has promised to take part in the next TV session on Tuesday, once at least one more candidate has been knocked out of the race. Despite his absence, much of Sunday’s campaigning focused on the man who was not there.

“Where is Boris?” Hunt asked, suggesting his failure to show up called into question his credentials to lead the country. Stewart and Javid also aimed jibes at the former foreign secretary and London mayor for staying away. Yet earlier, Hunt, Gove and Raab all said they would be happy to serve in Johnson’s government, if he wins.


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Published on June 17, 2019
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