Business minister Kwasi Kwarteng intervened in the growing row over whether the Government would ignore Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill if he received legal warnings that it should not push the country out of the EU in the middle of a general election.
Sir Mark is believed to have had legal advice that during an election campaign the “status quo” — of Britain being in the EU — should be maintained. Brexiteers argue the status quo is that the UK is due to quit the EU by law on October 31.
Jeremy Corbyn has written to Sir Mark asking him to confirm that if the UK is due to leave the EU without a deal while an election is under way, the Government should seek another time-limited delay to Brexit to allow voters to make such a historic decision.
The Labour leader said that to act otherwise would be an “unprecedented, unconstitutional and anti-democratic abuse of power”.
However, Mr Kwarteng told Good Morning Britain: “That 31st of October date, I’m afraid for the Remainers, is set in stone … unlike last time, we will not be asking for an extension.”
He was also confident the Tories would win a general election, with Labour so divided. “The idea that Labour is going to win a vote of no confidence and then win a subsequent election, I think is pretty far-fetched,” he added.
However, amid talk of a November 1 election, leading political expert Sir John Curtice, of Strathclyde University, warned the Tories that if there is a poll before Britain has left the EU then their hopes could be hit by the Brexit Party.
“What Brexit supporters are saying when they’re asked these hypothetical questions is, if we leave after October 31 … at least half of them say they’ll switch to the Tories,” he told an event at the Edinburgh Fringe.
“If on the other hand the Government tries to hold an election before October 31 and we haven’t left … they say they’ll stick with the Brexit Party.” If the election happens after Brexit, then he believes the Conservatives could get a Commons majority.
With a “Parliament v Government” clash looming in September, Tory rebel MPs could join forces with the Opposition to try to seize control of the Commons timetable and pass a law to stop a no-deal departure. They could also bring down Mr Johnson’s government in a confidence vote and seek to form a national unity government to delay Brexit and avoid a crash-out.
However, opposition MPs are deeply divided over the prospect of a unity government, possibly without Mr Corbyn at the helm. Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald insisted Labour would try to form a government, and said: “We must stop no deal no matter what.”
Constitutional expert Vernon Bogdanor, a professor at King’s College London, suggested a new government opposed to no deal could scrap such a departure even if it had happened, though politically this may be difficult.
“A sovereign parliament could legislate retrospectively, with the agreement of the EU, so as to extend the Brexit date and deem Britain not to have left the EU on October 31!” he wrote in The Times.
On a visit to Mexico, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab stepped up the blame game if there is no deal, insisting the EU was refusing to re-open the Withdrawal Agreement.
He said the Northern Ireland backstop could be solved by checks away from the border. Downing Street has rejected a November 1 bank holiday, while special advisers’ summer leave is cancelled to deal with the Brexit crisis.