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Mon, 1 June 2020

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Labour shoots down 'fantasy football' plan to install Speaker John Bercow as caretaker prime minister

Labour shoots down 'fantasy football' plan to install Speaker John Bercow as caretaker prime minister
4 min read

Talk of installing John Bercow as a caretaker Prime Minister to halt a no-deal Brexit is "fantasy football", a prominent Labour frontbencher has said.

Shadow Attorney General Shami Chakrabarti shot down the idea of the Speaker heading up a government of national unity - and again insisted that only Jeremy Corbyn could lead an administration that would delay Brexit and hold a general election.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have been engaged in a bitter row for months over who could command the confidence of the House of Commons should Boris Johnson's government fall in a vote of no-confidence.

Mr Corbyn has asked other opposition parties to back him in heading up a "time-limited" administration, but the Lib Dems have instead floated senior backbenchers such as Harriet Harman and Ken Clarke for the job.

The Sunday Times reports that those pushing for a unity government are now pitching Commons Speaker Mr Bercow as a potential interim leader in a bid to swerve Mr Corbyn's objections.

According to the paper, his Cabinet would be made up of "clean skin" MPs who would not be bound by party loyalty because they are preparing to step down at the next election.

But Baroness Chakrabarti dismissed those proposals out of hand, as she doubled down on Labour's insistence that only Mr Corbyn was up to the job.

"I may say so, we're now getting into almost fantasy football," she told the BBC's Andrew Marr.

And she added: "I think it's very unlikely. I really really do I think what we need to concentrate on is getting no-deal ruled out... and then to head for a general election."

The Labour frontbencher said she was "not saying that" Mr Corbyn would never step aside and hand over the reigns as a caretaker PM.

But she warned: "I just think that we're getting into a level of fantasy around these various permutations of unity governments. It's just not realistic."

The comments come after Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell hit out at the unity government suggestion, saying it "wouldn't work" - and warning the Lib Dems that they could take the blame if Britain left the EU without a deal because of opposition to putting Mr Corbyn in Number 10.

He told Italian newspaper La Repubblica: "We want to ensure that we abide by the normal conventions, which is the largest party is given the opportunity to form that government. 

"The other opposition parties will then have to make their minds up, because if they don't swing their support behind Jeremy Corbyn, they'll be blamed for the no-deal."

The SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens have already suggested that they would be willing to support Mr Corbyn's offer to become a caretaker Prime Minister, with the Lib Dems and the Independent Group for Change both opposed to the move.


Elsewhere in her Andrew Marr interview, Baroness Chakrabarti dropped a strong hint that Labour MPs who defy the leadership to back any Brexit deal Mr Johnson can agree with the EU will not lose the party whip.

It has been claimed that up to 40 Labour MPs could be willing to get behind an agreement if it is put before the House of Commons, despite Mr Corbyn warning that such a deal will harm the country.

But Baroness Chakrabarti said: "I don't believe that there are 30 or 40 Labour MPs who would vote for any deal. They care as much as I do about rights and protections and food standards and so on."

And, asked how MPs would be punished if they did support such a deal, the Labour frontbencher said: "I'm not a punisher and I would never want our party to behave in the way that Boris Johnson did... towards the 21 liberal Conservatives who have been purged from that party."

Twenty-one Conservative MPs were stripped of the Tory whip last month when they backed a bill that would force Mr Johnson to seek a further delay to Brexit rather than pushing for a no-deal outcome if he cannot strike an agreement by mid-October.