Make Clarke or Harman emergency PM to resolve Brexit crisis, urges Swinson

By Harriet Line, PA Deputy Political Editor

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson has suggested Ken Clarke or Harriet Harman be installed as the prime minister of an “emergency government” to resolve the Brexit crisis.

Ms Swinson dismissed Jeremy Corbyn’s challenge to opposition parties to install him as caretaker prime minister until a general election to prevent a no-deal Brexit under Boris Johnson – saying there was “no way” the Labour leader could unite MPs.

Instead, she recommended placing either the Father or Mother of the House of Commons – titles given to the longest serving sitting male and female MPs – to lead an emergency government.

Her suggestion came as she welcomed former Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston to the party, bringing the total number of Lib Dem MPs to 14.

In her first major speech as party leader, Ms Swinson said the Commons needed to win a vote of no confidence against Boris Johnson and within 14 days install a new PM who has “the confidence of the House and will stop a no-deal Brexit”.

Referencing Mr Corbyn’s suggestion, she said: “He is demanding the keys to Number 10 as a precondition for a vote of no confidence.

“We are facing a national crisis. We may need an emergency government to resolve it. But if Jeremy Corbyn truly wants that to succeed surely even he can see that he cannot lead it.

“There is no way he can unite rebel Conservatives and Independents to stop Boris Johnson. It is not even certain that he would secure all the votes of Labour MPs.

“This isn’t about personalities, this is about having a plan that actually works. What we need in a leader of an emergency government is a long-serving Member of Parliament who is respected on both sides of the House.

“Someone like Ken Clarke or Harriet Harman – the Father and Mother of the House – they are hugely experienced and, unlike Jeremy Corbyn, or indeed myself, they are not seeking to lead a government in the long term.”

When asked if she had spoken to Mr Clarke or Ms Harman about her suggestion to lead the government, Ms Swinson said she was confident that they would be happy to take on the role.

“I have been in contact and I certainly think that those are both politicians who not only have that long experience across the House and have served the country well in the past and put public duty at the heart of what they’ve done but they are still individuals who are very much motivated by public duty and what is right for the country.

“And I’m confident that if that’s what the House of Commons resolves that those individuals will be happy to take on that role to try to steer our country through these difficult waters.”

Jo Swinson with Chuka Umunna and Sarah Wollaston (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Ms Swinson said she was ready to “work with anyone” to stop Mr Johnson and his “hardline Brexit Government”.

“Despite saying that no-deal was a million-to-one chance, that is clearly the destination that Boris Johnson is headed towards. He was prepared to say anything in his selfish quest to become Prime Minister at all costs.”

She accused Mr Johnson of “playing with fire” and “playing at being Prime Minister” over his Brexit stance.

“Just what will he say to the father who has just lost his job because of no-deal Brexit? Telling him to cheer up in Latin just won’t wash. Boris Johnson: stop playing with our country’s future.”

Ms Swinson arrived at the speech with Ms Wollaston, and Chuka Umunna – who also recently switched to join the pro-Remain party.

She praised Ms Wollaston, who represents Totnes, as a “formidable” MP and said: “I am so glad to have her by my side in our fight to stop Brexit.”