UK lawmakers prepare to vote on bid to hamper no-deal Brexit

LONDON (Reuters) – British lawmakers will vote on Thursday on a beefed-up proposal aimed at making it harder for the next prime minister to try to force through a no-deal Brexit by suspending parliament.

FILE PHOTO: A Union Jack flag flutters over the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, April 2, 2019. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis/File Photo

Boris Johnson, the frontrunner to succeed Prime Minister Theresa May next week, has said Britain must leave the European Union on Oct. 31 with or without a deal and has refused to rule out suspending parliament to prevent lawmakers from trying to block his exit plan.

Lawmakers will vote on a proposal after 1220 GMT that would require parliament to be recalled for several days in September and October if it has been suspended, though the measure does not amount to an outright block on suspending parliament.

The BBC reported some senior ministers, some of whom are likely facing the sack for their opposition to a no deal if Johnson wins the top job, were considering resigning to support the proposal.

“The idea that parliament should be suspended in October … at a crucial point in this country’s history, that parliament should not be able to sit, should not be able to express its opinion and its will, I think would be outrageous,” Justice Secretary David Gauke told BBC Radio.

Asked if he would vote for the proposal, something that would require him to resign, he said: “I will have to see what the precise amendments are … I’m not in a position to necessarily say.”

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Sky said finance minister Philip Hammond and up to 30 Conservative lawmakers were considering abstaining in the vote. Sterling extended gains ahead of the vote.

The three-year Brexit crisis is deepening as Johnson’s plan to leave the EU “do or die” on Oct. 31 sets Britain on a collision course with the bloc’s 27 other leaders and many lawmakers in the British parliament.

CLOSE RESULT

The result of the vote is likely to be close: an earlier ballot on a less far-reaching version of the proposal last week passed by just one vote.

That narrow vote was in favor of a change to a piece of legislation to add a requirement that ministers make fortnightly reports on progress toward re-establishing Northern Ireland’s collapsed executive.

Those hoping to stop a no-deal Brexit believe this could require parliament to be in session throughout the run-up to Brexit day, complicating any bid by Britain’s new prime minister to “prorogue”, or suspend, the legislature.

On Thursday, lawmakers will be asked to give final approval to the measure, which has since been strengthened by parliament’s upper chamber, the House of Lords.

The Lords added a requirement that the government’s report on its progress in Northern Ireland would need to be approved by lawmakers, giving them a possible route to try to stop a no-deal such as attaching a vote to request a delay to Brexit.

House of Commons speaker John Bercow also selected for vote an amendment put forward by lawmakers from both the governing Conservatives and opposition parties to require parliament to sit for several days even if it has been prorogued.

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“What my amendment simply seeks to do is to make provision for the House to be recalled in those circumstances to allow the opportunity for us to consider the reports,” said opposition Labour lawmaker Hilary Benn, one of those behind the proposal.

The votes are due after 1220 GMT. If passed by the Commons, the measure is still subject to final approval by the Lords but it would be likely to support it.

Additional reporting by Costas Pitas and William James; editing by Stephen Addison/Guy Faulconbridge

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