'There probably is time' to block no-deal Brexit despite prorogation, says Tory rebel

PUBLISHED: 14:50 30 August 2019 | UPDATED: 14:50 30 August 2019

Oliver Letwin. Picture: Nigel Sutton.

Oliver Letwin. Picture: Nigel Sutton.

© Nigel Sutton email pictures@nigelsuttonphotography.com

Tory rebels and opposition leaders appear increasingly confident of finding a way to block a no-deal Brexit, despite the prospect of parliament shutting down temporarily.

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Opposition leaders in the Commons have agreed to seek a legislative change when MPs return to Westminster on September 3.

Tory rebel ringleader Sir Oliver Letwin said he had been in talks with Speaker John Bercow about the parliamentary procedures that will apply.

The former minister said he believes "there probably is time" to get a measure to block a no-deal Brexit through parliament despite the prorogation, which will begin in the second week of September.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme it would be "foolhardy" to predict the outcome of any votes.

But he added: "I know that there are a number of my colleagues who feel as I do, that a disorderly no-deal exit is a very bad idea, and they have in the past been willing to come and support efforts to prevent that happening and I very much hope that will happen again."

Sir Oliver said the move could force the prime minister to delay Brexit beyond the October 31 deadline unless there is a Withdrawal Agreement with Brussels.

He rejected claims the measure would weaken the government's hand in negotiations with Brussels.

On the Labour side, shadow attorney general Baroness Chakrabarti said: "My own soundings and those of colleagues in discussions over the last couple of days, in particular since the constitutional outrage, give me greater comfort that minds are now focused, especially on the Conservative side."

She told Today there were ways of preventing filibusters and "any sort of public school dirty tricks" aimed at blocking legislation when it reaches the Lords.

But Johnson's de facto deputy Dominic Raab dismissed the furore over the prorogation move, calling the reaction "nonsense".

Transport secretary Grant Shapps hit out at the efforts to block a no-deal Brexit, saying unless you are prepared to walk away from negotiations "you are unlikely to get a great deal".

"I think for Sir Oliver and others to try to stymie that is entirely counter-productive," he told Today.

The prospect of an explosive Commons battle next week came as Mr Johnson called for both the UK and EU to "step up the tempo" in talks.

Downing Street said the UK's team of Brexit negotiators will sit down with their EU counterparts twice a week during September "with the possibility of additional technical meetings, to discuss a way forward on securing a new deal".

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But Ireland's deputy prime minister, Simon Coveney, said so far the UK had not put forward any "credible" alternatives to the backstop - the contingency plan aimed at preventing a hard border with the UK.

"It can't simply be this notion that 'look, we must have the backstop removed and we will solve this problem in the future negotiation' without any credible way of doing that," he said.

"That's not going to fly and it's important that we are all honest about that."

Brussels again demanded "concrete proposals" that were "compatible with the Withdrawal Agreement".

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