7 October 2019 | UK NEWS
It is understood in Westminster that a meeting of Opposition party leaders has once again failed to reach agreement on a cross-party strategy to form an interim administration, in the event that the Conservative Government led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson is removed from power. The purpose of the meeting was said to be to “hold the Government to account” following the new Brexit proposals advanced by the PM last week.
Following the meeting, which was attended by senior figures from the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP, the Independent Group for Change, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party, a senior Lib Dem source said: “The position Jeremy Corbyn is taking is that we can have an emergency Government, but only if he gets to lead it. They know they don’t have the numbers, but they are insistent they won’t work with anyone else.”
The source added: “Their total unwillingness to work with anyone else makes the Labour Party the biggest barrier to stopping no-deal.” Another source understood to be closely involved with the talks has reportedly told the Press Association that all Opposition leaders had expressed a willingness during the meeting to support a Prime Ministerial candidate from a different party if this were necessary to form a ‘caretaker’ government, with the exception of the Labour Party leadership.
Mr Corbyn said in advance of the meeting that: “Labour is continuing to lead cross-party efforts to prevent a damaging no-deal”, in reference to the Brexit process. However, speaking after the meeting, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that both Labour and the Lib Dems should “grow up”, adding in a tweet that: “Who leads a temporary govt that will be in office for just a matter of days is not the key issue. What matters is getting this Tory government out, securing an extension and then having a General Election ASAP.”
The development comes amid reports that the Government has not yet received an official response from the European Union to the Brexit proposals it laid out last week. While the Prime Minister was scheduled to speak to the leaders of Poland, Sweden and Denmark by telephone today, no offers have yet been made for him to travel to the Continent thus far this week, according to Downing Street sources. There are only 10 days remaining until the next summit of EU leaders on 17-18th October, which is seen as crucial to Mr Johnson’s efforts to secure a new Brexit deal.
Number 10 has continued to insist that, should such an agreement not be forthcoming, Britain will leave the European Union at 11pm on 31st October regardless. This is despite the legal requirement resting upon the Prime Minister to request a 3-month extension until 31st January 2020, as a result of the Benn Act. The Government has remained ambiguous about how it could avoid this, while still planning to leave the EU at the end of October, if necessary without a deal.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “We are ready to talk with the EU at a pace to secure a deal so we can move on and build a new partnership between the UK and EU. But if this is to be possible then the EU must match the compromises that the UK has made.”
He added: “The Prime Minister set out in his letter on Wednesday to (European Commission president) Jean-Claude Juncker that we believed this provided a broad landing zone and that we were willing to engage on further discussions of our proposals. But if your question is are we prepared for Northern Ireland to be in a different customs union territory to the United Kingdom, the answer is a very firm no.”
The UK’s chief negotiator, David Frost, has been holding further technical talks with the European Commission today. Speaking at a press briefing, the Commission’s chief spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said: “Talks will continue today and this week in order to give the UK the opportunity to present their proposals in more detail and then we will take stock with member states and the European Parliament throughout the week. And, as we have said before, every day counts in these talks. I think we have said many times that we are available 24/7.”
These developments come amid parliamentary business scheduled for this Wednesday, in which a ten-minute rule motion will be moved by Pete Wishart, an SNP MP, for the House of Commons to “nominate the Prime Minister and approve appointments to the Cabinet”, and to “establish the office of Acting Prime Minister”. While the premise of the motion appears to be clear – to replace the executive functions of the incumbent Government – the precise nature and timing of this motion are yet to be revealed.
However, none of this will happen if Parliament is prorogued as scheduled when the House rises at the end of today’s sitting. This development is expected in line with the Prime Minister’s intention that there should be a new Queen’s Speech this coming Monday (14th October). This is the same date that he had originally scheduled it for when Parliament was prorogued last month, until that was ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court.
We will bring you further coverage of developments in both Westminster and Brussels over the course of this week.