Boris Johnson flies back to Westminster facing calls for his resignation and an early election, after a historic Supreme Court ruling plunged his Brexit plans into disarray and his premiership into its deepest crisis yet.
Opposition parties are demanding an immediate statement by the prime minister to the reconvened Commons on the devastating finding of 11 of the UK’s most senior judges that his five-week suspension of parliament was unlawful.
MPs have been put under a strict whip to be in the Commons chamber for the resumption of sittings at 11.30am, 19 days ahead of the 14 October date when Mr Johnson had been planning to allow them back.
Opponents of a no-deal Brexit have vowed to use all parliamentary mechanisms available to ensure the PM complies with a law requiring him to seek an extension to EU withdrawal talks beyond the current deadline of 31 October.
And Labour has made clear it will move immediately after the extension is “locked in” to force a general election which could come within weeks.
Downing Street insisted there was no question of Mr Johnson resigning, while the PM himself - who was forced by the court ruling to cut short a visit to the United Nations in New York - vowed to press ahead with plans for a Halloween Brexit and a Queen’s Speech setting out his legislative plans for the year ahead.
Speaker John Bercow has indicated he will be helpful to MPs seeking to put the prime minister’s decisions under forensic scrutiny, making clear he is ready to accept requests for urgent questions to ministers and emergency debates.
And Mr Johnson’s foes made clear that they are not ruling out forcing a vote to find him in contempt of parliament, although this ‘nuclear option’ is not thought to be imminent.
Opposition MPs believe they already have the ammunition they need to trigger a contempt motion, because of Mr Johnson’s earlier failure to publish the full Operation Yellowhammer papers on preparations for a no-deal Brexit has refusal to release internal communications between aides on the prorogation, as required by parliament.
Members of the so-called ‘rebel alliance’ of MPs across the House are expected initially to focus their fire on Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, who is facing calls for his resignation after a leak showed he advised the PM that the longest prorogation of parliament in modern times was “lawful and within the constitution”.
Mr Cox will face demands for the release in full of the advice on which Mr Johnson based his request to the Queen to shut MPs out of Westminster.
— Jo Maugham QC (@JolyonMaugham)September 24, 2019
The bid to obtain the secret advice could take the form of a “humble address” to Her Majesty, asking her to require her government to release the document.
And there will be massive pressure on Mr Johnson to dismiss his controversial senior adviser Dominic Cummings, regarded as the driving force behind the PM’s stretching of constitutional and legal conventions in his “do or die” push to get Brexit over the line.
Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said the party could also use a series of urgent questions to force ministers to the despatch box to answer questions on issues ranging from the collapse of Thomas Cook to the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia, which MPs have been blocked from scrutinising because of the prorogation.
“We want to demonstrate that parliament is representing the people, as a counter to Boris Johnson’s narrative that it is the people against parliament,” Mr Brake told The Independent.
Aides to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn confirmed he had been in discussions with leaders of other opposition parties and independent MPs shortly after the court ruling to co-ordinate moves to ensure no-deal is blocked.
“We are determined that there will be an early election,” said a senior Labour spokesman. “The condition is that no-deal must be taken off the table first. We will use whatever mechanism is necessary to achieve that.”
Labour is wary of calling a vote of no confidence in the PM until it is absolutely sure that Britain will not crash out of the EU during the election campaign it would trigger. And ministers have not yet ruled out requesting a second prorogation to run down the clock to Brexit day, which the Queen would by convention be expected to grant.
Both Labour and Lib Dems are expected to oppose any Conservative motion for an immediate short recess to allow them to hold the party’s annual conference, due to start in Manchester on Sunday.
If Mr Johnson fails to win the support of enough independent MPs - including those who he expelled from the party for rebelling - to secure the recess, the conference may have to be cut short or take place with the bulk of his MPs in parliament. The early resumption of Commons sittings means that his next appearance at prime minister’s questions could come next Wednesday, on the scheduled date of his first address to the conference as Conservative leader.