Leading Cabinet Brexiteer Liam Fox has lashed out at moves by MPs to rewrite the Commons rule book in an attempt to “hijack” Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.
The International Trade Secretary angrily accused backbenchers of trying to “steal” Brexit from the British people who voted to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum.
At least two cross-party groups of MPs are planning to table amendments to enable backbenchers to take control of the business of the House to delay or frustrate Theresa May’s Brexit plans.
One group led by Tory former minister Nick Boles and the senior Labour MP Yvette Cooper is attempting to block a no-deal Brexit – something Mrs May strongly opposes.
A second, led by the former attorney general Dominic Grieve, is said to want to go further and suspend the Article 50 withdrawal process.
Dr Fox, who was in Gibraltar earlier this week for meetings, warned that the political consequences if Parliament was to go back on the referendum result, would be “astronomical”.
“You’ve got a Leave population and a Remain Parliament,” he told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show.
“Parliament has not got the right to hijack the Brexit process because Parliament said to the people of this country ‘We make a contract with you, you will make the decision and we will honour it’.”
“What we are now getting is some of those who always absolutely opposed the result of the referendum trying to hijack Brexit and in fact steal the result from the people.”
Downing Street described the moves as “extremely concerning” and said they underlined the need for MPs who supported Brexit to vote for it in the House.
However Tory former Cabinet minister Nicky Morgan – who is backing the Boles-Cooper amendment – rejected claims MPs were trying to stage a constitutional “coup”.
“To describe it as a coup is overblown,” she told Sky News’s Ridge on Sunday programme.
“It’s a strange coup that starts with a whole bunch of democratically elected Members of Parliament.”
Labour MP Hilary Benn, who chairs the Commons Brexit committee and is backing the same amendment, also rejected claims MPs were behaving unconstitutionally.
“MPs doing their job are not plotters, they are trying to sort out the mess the Prime Minister has created,” he told The Andrew Marr Show.
“We are facing a national crisis and there are many MPs in the House of Commons whose first priority is to ensure that we do not leave without a deal and therefore finding ways when we come to table amendments this week and debate on January 29 how we stop that.”
The row erupted as Mrs May was preparing to brief Cabinet ministers on her talks with other party leaders and senior MPs following the crushing defeat of her Brexit deal last week in the Commons.
The Prime Minister, who is spending the weekend at her official country retreat at Chequers is due to make a statement to MPs on Monday setting out how she intends to proceed with Brexit after the tumultuous events of last week.
She will also table a “neutral” motion – which is expected to attract a flurry of amendments from MPs – which will be debated and voted on on January 29.
Mr Grieve’s amendment, if approved, would allow a motion put down by 300 MPs – less than half the House of Commons – to stand as first business of the day.
They would have to include MPs from across five parties – including 10 from the governing party.
That could enable a cross-party coalition of MPs to take control of the business of the House from the Government – in contravention of normal constitutional conventions.
Meanwhile, Labour backbencher David Lammy has warned his party’s leader Jeremy Corbyn he risks a historic split comparable to the SDP breakaway in the 1980s unless he backs a second referendum.
“There is a small group in our party who are so frustrated, who have so much grievance, the fear is that they are going to go off and form another party,” he told Ridge On Sunday.
“I personally reject that. But the danger is that, just like 1983, a new party built around a relationship with Europe keeps the Labour Party out of power for a generation.”