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Mon, 6 April 2020

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Opposition leaders urged to 'impeach' Boris Johnson if he ignores no-deal Brexit bill

Opposition leaders urged to 'impeach' Boris Johnson if he ignores no-deal Brexit bill
3 min read

Opposition leaders have been urged to take the drastic step of impeaching Boris Johnson if Number 10 ignores the cross-party bill aimed at stopping a no-deal Brexit.

Liz Saville Roberts, Westminster leader of Plaid Cymru, said the arcane device was no longer "far-fetched" because Mr Johnson had "driven a bulldozer through the constitution".

The bill aimed at forcing Mr Johnson to seek a three-month Brexit extension if he cannot reach an agreement with the EU is expected to receive Royal Assent on Monday. 

But a Downing Street source has already suggested it could "sabotage" the demand to extend Article 50, while Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Sunday hinted at a legal challenge to the bid to block a no-deal Brexit.

The Plaid Cymru chief said she would tell other opposition party leaders to "think the unthinkable" if Mr Johnson ignored the bill and support impeachment, an obscure parliamentary process that Mr Johnson has previously suggested be used against Tony Blair at the height of the Iraq War.

According to the House of Commons library, impeachment has not been used since 1806, when it was unsuccessfully used to try to oust Tory politician Viscount Melville for misappropriation of public money.

A 1999 report by MPs meanwhile said "the circumstances in which impeachment has taken place are now so remote from the present that that the procedure may be considered obsolete", with the process superseded by other ways of holding public figures to account.

But the ability to prosecute office-holders "for high treason or other crimes and misdemeanours" remains on the statute book, and Ms Saville Roberts said: “Impeachment was a process backed by Boris Johnson not so long ago.

"A man sacked for serially lying backed the impeachment of Blair for the same reason – lying. If the Prime Minister becomes a law-breaker, we have an even stronger case for impeachment than the very cause he advocated back in 2004."

Ms Saville Roberts pointed to a 2004 Telegraph column by the Prime Minister, who at the time said Mr Blair had "treated Parliament and the public with contempt" and therefore deserved "to be impeached".

Mr Johnson wrote: "It does not mean that he would be forced to resign: only that he would have to explain himself, as Palmerston had to explain himself when he was impeached in 1848.” 

And he added that the impeachment “procedure would at least force Blair to come clean, and say why he felt it necessary to be so reckless with the truth.”

Ms Saville Roberts said: “No PM would want to play fast and loose with views he held on such matters in the past.

“The future of our communities are at stake and I will not let him get away with running them into the ground thanks to a plummy accent and a memorable haircut. They have brought a campaigner to a constitutional fight, when they should have brought a lawyer.

“No one is above the law, Boris Johnson shouldn’t risk finding that out the hard way."

Parliamentary rulebook Erskine May says that impeachment would require the the Commons to first accuse a public office holder of a crime, before the House of Lords exercises the "functions of a high court of justice and of a jury" by trying the person accused of an offence.

No Prime Minister has ever been impeached, and the House of Commons library says "the rules underpinning the procedure have not been adapted to modern standards of democracy or procedural fairness".

But Plaid Cymru pointed out: "It only takes one MP to make the accusation of High Crimes and Misdemeanours against a public official for the impeachment process to begin. "

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