Jo Swinson was being “extremely petulant” when she dismissed Jeremy Corbyn’s call to make him prime minister to block a no-deal Brexit, according to the Labour frontbencher Barry Gardiner.
In comments likely to ratchet up tensions between the two parties before a meeting Corbyn has called of parliamentary opponents of no deal, Gardiner accused the Liberal Democrat leader of wanting to propel the Queen into a constitutional crisis.
Swinson rejected Corbyn’s offer earlier this month when he outlined plans to oust the government through a vote of no confidence and form a “strictly time-limited” caretaker government to prevent a no-deal Brexit.
But Gardiner, the shadow trade secretary, told Sky News on Sunday: “I think it was extremely petulant of Jo Swinson to come out and dismiss this the other day.
“It sounded as if she couldn’t take yes for an answer because she has been saying, and the Liberal Democrats and others have been saying for so long: ‘Look, we need to have a second referendum and remain needs to be on the ballot paper.’
“They are now being offered a failsafe parliamentary procedural way of delivering that and they’re saying: ‘Oh well, we are not going to cooperate if Jeremy Corbyn is going to be the person who does it.’”
Gardiner added that the “natural constitutional process” was that the leader of the opposition was called on by the Queen to lead a new government when an old one failed.
“If Jo Swinson wants to propel Her Majesty into a constitutional crisis where, instead of inviting the leader of the opposition to form a new government, she invites somebody else who is not the leader of a political party, then that would be forcing the monarchy into a very embarrassing and difficult judgment call that they would have to make.”
After initially rebuffing Corbyn, Swinson said she would work with the Labour party to prevent a no-deal Brexit amid pressure from other opposition leaders, but underlined her belief that a Corbyn-led unity government would not win the confidence of parliament.
Liberal Democrats: Their first choice would be legislation to extend article 50 then call a second referendum. If this did not work the party would support the no-confidence motion, but rather than installing Corbyn, the Lib Dems would seek a cross-party government led by a backbench grandee, such as Ken Clarke or Harriet Harman. It is not clear if the party would try to block a temporary Corbyn government.
SNP: The Scottish National party supports a no-confidence motion. They have said they will talk to Corbyn about his plan, despite their differences over Brexit. The party’s leader, Nicola Sturgeon, has criticised Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson's stance.
Plaid Cymru: Liz Saville Roberts, Westminster leader for the party, has indicated she could back the Corbyn plan, but would prefer an immediate second referendum rather than general election.
Independent Group for Change/Independents: The group formerly known as the TIGers, now split and reduced in number after two joined the Liberal Democrats, seem wary of the Corbyn plan, with some MPs saying they could not support him.
Greens: Caroline Lucas, the Green party’s sole MP has taken a similar view to Saville Roberts, and has also appealed to Swinson to reconsider backing a temporary Corbyn-led government.
Rebel Tories: Conservative party MP Guto Bebb has said that even a Corbyn government would be preferable to no deal. But it seems hard to see many other Tories following him.
Former Labour independents: Ian Austin, a long-time Corbyn foe, has already ruled out supporting his plan for a temporary government, and it is hard to see MPs such as Frank Field, John Woodcock, and others, doing so either.
Peter Walker Political correspondent
The Conservative and Labour grandees Ken Clarke and Harriet Harman – who are the father and mother of the house, or longest-serving male and female MPs – are prepared to lead the emergency government, Swinson added, saying she had won both of their assurances.
Gardiner’s comments drew a response from Chuka Umunna, the Liberal Democrats foreign affairs spokesperson, who said that Swinson “has very reasonably pointed out” that Jeremy Corbyn needs at least eight Tory rebels to support his prospective premiership for his caretaker government to work.
“This is not going to happen,” he added on Twitter.
Umunna said of Gardiner’s comments: “By all means disagree but this is patronising tribal bluster. It doesn’t promote “unity.”
“Nothing will give Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings and co more pleasure than those opposed to a ‘no deal’ Brexit wasting precious time pursuing unworkable plans - let’s put the tribalism to one side and focus on what would actually work.”