Without irony a spokesman for Downing Street has condemned moves by MPs to stop a no-deal Brexit as ‘grossly irresponsible’.
Tory former attorney general Dominic Grieve and Labour grandee Dame Margaret Beckett have tabled an amendment which would deny departments access to funding in the event of no-deal unless it has been specifically approved by MPs.
The move, which follows Boris Johnson’s pledge to take Britain out of the EU by the end of October “do or die”, aims to make it harder for the next prime minister to leave without a deal with Brussels in place.
If it succeeds in a Commons vote on Tuesday, it could cut off cash to four Whitehall departments – education, housing, communities and local government, international development and work and pensions.
Under parliamentary procedure, MPs have to approve Government spending – known as estimates – twice a year.
However the amendment, if passed, would mean funding to the affected departments would only continue after Brexit if parliament has ratified a deal with Brussels or MPs have voted to leave with no deal.
A No 10 spokeswoman said: “We don’t know if that amendment is going to be selected at this point. Any attempt to deny vital funding to Whitehall departments would be grossly irresponsible.
“This is government spending for this financial year and funds crucial areas like schools, housing and welfare.”
It is unclear at this stage whether the MPs behind the move have sufficient support to defeat the government, but a cross-party motion could win more support than Labour’s latest attempt.
Grieve said he did not know how much support they would get but he rejected the accusation that the group was acting irresponsibly.
“What is grossly irresponsible is leadership candidates who intend to be prime minister in four weeks time saying they are prepared to contemplate taking the UK out of the EU without the approval of the House of Commons,” he told the Press Association.
“That is incredibly irresponsible constitutionally. The House of Commons has very limited ability to stand up to behaviour of this kind.
“What the Commons has is the power to withhold supply and putting in this amendment is intended to prevent the Government doing something it shouldn’t even be contemplating.”