Wednesday 19 June 2019

New PM could avoid facing Commons vote for two months

Candidate: Boris Johnson is among the favourites to be crowned Tory leader and become prime minister. Photo: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
Candidate: Boris Johnson is among the favourites to be crowned Tory leader and become prime minister. Photo: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Andrew Woodcock in London

British MPs could be sent home for their summer break before they have been given the chance to approve the new prime minister, a cabinet minister has suggested.

Mel Stride, leader of the House of Commons, told MPs he could not rule out recess beginning before the end of the Tory leadership contest, meaning Theresa May's replacement would have almost two months in office before having to demonstrate that he or she commands a majority in the house.

Labour has said it will force a confidence vote as soon as the new leader is in place, but the summer recess could deny them the chance to do so until September. And Tory leadership hopeful Dominic Raab indicated the wait could be extended as late as November, as he refused to rule out shutting down parliament until the Halloween deadline for Brexit has passed, in order to prevent MPs blocking a no-deal outcome.

The suggestion that an incoming prime minister could use the process of "prorogation" - sending MPs on holiday until a date of the government's choosing - to permit no deal was slapped down by Commons speaker John Bercow. He told MPs: "Parliament will not be evacuated from the centre stage of the decision-making process on this important matter. That's simply not going to happen. It's just so blindly obvious that it almost doesn't need to be stated."

And former speaker Baroness Boothroyd, a supporter of the People's Vote referendum campaign, hit out at Mr Raab: "I have a message for this ambitious young man: you don't treat our parliament, our democracy or our people that way. If you even try to impose your no-deal Brexit on us by cancelling parliamentary proceedings, you won't survive as prime minister for five minutes, you will be booted out of office and you are not worthy of your seat in parliament which should be reserved for those who deserve the title of democrats."

The election of a new PM during parliament's summer break would not only be highly unusual but in the current political climate could be the key to the new leader's survival. With several Tory MPs ready to defy the whip of a no-deal PM, contenders like Mr Raab or Boris Johnson could otherwise face a backbench revolt within days of taking power. And even if the new PM secures the continued support of the 10 DUP MPs, it would take only a handful of rebels to unseat them.

The result of the Conservative leadership contest is due to be announced in the week of July 22, which is around the time that parliament would usually begin its summer break. The acting chairs of the backbench Tory 1922 Committee, who are returning officers for the vote, said the precise date when Ms May will hand over to a successor cannot yet be stated, as it is dependent on the progress of the leadership contest.

In the Commons, Tory MP Peter Bone asked Mr Stride to confirm that the recess would not begin before the new leader is in place, stating it was "entirely proper that a new prime minister should face this house before any recess".

Mr Stride replied: "The answer to that question is an interplay between when the contest within the Conservative Party for the new leader is due to conclude, and when the recess itself is announced. We certainly don't know the answer to the latter, and I'm not sure that we entirely know the answer to the former, so I think the answer is, unfortunately, no not necessarily."

Making his debut in the Commons in his new role, Mr Stride said discussions about the dates of the summer recess were ongoing and that an announcement would be made "in due course".

Labour MP Chris Bryant denounced Mr Stride's response as "wholly inadequate".

"Even Winston Churchill, during the midst of war when the British Expeditionary Force was in danger of complete collapse in France and we were trying to get people out of Dunkirk, when he was made prime minister in May 1940, addressed the House of Commons just three days later," said Mr Bryant.

"Even the Marquess of Salisbury in 1885 knew he had to come to parliament the next day, so surely to God the leader of the house should be able to say to us today that yes, a new prime minister will address the House of Commons within a week of being appointed."

Last month, John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, said Labour planned to call a vote of no confidence once the new leader is elected. Asked if that was the party's intention, he said: "Yes, because we believe any incoming prime minister in these circumstance should go to the country anyway and seek a mandate."

Irish Independent

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