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MPs back bid to stop Boris Johnson suspending Parliament to deliver Brexit

4 min read

MPs have backed a fresh attempt to stop Boris Johnson from suspending Parliament to deliver Brexit if he becomes Prime Minister.

The clear frontrunner to succeed Theresa May in 10 Downing Street is contemplating so-called "prorogation" to make sure the UK leaves the European Union on 31 October.

But following a major rebellion by Tory MPs, the Commons voted 315 to 274 in favour of an amendment to the Northern Ireland Bill which all-but rules that out as a possibility.

A total of 17 Conservative MPs voted in favour of the amendment, while at least four Cabinet ministers who are opposed to a no-deal Brexit were among those who broke the whip by abstaining.

But confirming they will not be sacked, a Downing Street spokesman sais: "The Prime Minister is obviously disappointed that a number of Ministers failed to vote in this afternoon’s division. No doubt her successor will take this into account when forming their government."

Meanwhile, culture minister Margot James has resigned after voting in favour of the amendment.

The result means ministers will be forced to return to Parliament throughout October to give regular updates on the progress being made in talks to restore power-sharing at Stormont, which has not sat for more than two years.

It came after peers passed a similar amendment in the House of Lords on Wednesday.

Mr Johnson - the runaway favourite to be named the new Conservative leader next Tuesday - has repeatedly refused to rule out suspending Parliament in order to guarantee Brexit by Hallowe'en.

Earlier this week, it emerged that his campaign team are considering tabling a Queen's Speech for the start of November.

That would allow him to prorogue Parliament in the middle of October, thereby ensuring the UK leaves at the end of the month - even if a majority of MPs are opposed to it.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister condemned the changes to the Northern Ireland Bill.

"We have been clear that the purpose of this bill is to ensure the continuation of vital public services and effective governance for the people of Northern Ireland," he said.

"Our view is that forcing a report and debate every two weeks on the progress of the those talks risks being counter-productive to this over-arching aim."

Northern Ireland minister John Penrose told the Commons that the amendment risks being seen by voters as "a stitch-up, a clever piece of procedure that pretends to care about democracy, but in reality is trying to prevent a decisions that has already been taken from ever happening at all".

Labour MP Hilary Benn, who put forward the original amendment, told the House: “The amendment would ensure that the House is sitting at a crucial time for our country, which I believe the country would expect and I don’t think that we could accept circumstances, if I may coin the phrase, in which we were sent missing in action.”

Former Foreign Office minister, Alistair Burt said: "If we felt under the weight of any pressure up to now, I venture to suggest to the House that it will be of nothing in the days leading up to October 31 if it’s not clear where the country is going, either because a deal has been agreed or because the consequences of no-deal have not been sufficiently spelt out so that everybody has been able to take a view."

Ex-Education Secretary, Justine Greening added: "If it doesn’t [pass] I really do feel that we will have crossed a rubicon inadvertently...

"That rubicon will be that when a government runs up against an issue and worries that the elected House of MPs may decide to stand up against it, then it can just close it down and that’s not in Britain’s DNA as a democracy."

Meanwhile Tory MP, Fiona Bruce, who opposed the amendment, hit out at last week's separate move to use the legislation to change abortion laws in the province.

She said: “The way in which this bill has been handled has been unconstitutional, undemocratic, legally incoherent and utterly disrespectful to the people of Northern Ireland…

“Let [the people of Northern Ireland] decide on such sensitive issues. We talk here of not being colonial, but what is this? Is this what new colonialism looks like?”

The DUP's Nigel Dodds continued: “When it comes to Northern Ireland debates it seems the chamber fills up and people only take an interest when it serves their purposes for other reasons.

"Sadly that is the case, I would like to see as many people take an interest in Northern Ireland affairs when we’re debating other issues of real effect and practical impact on the constituents that we represent here.”

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