Esther McVey, the housing minister, who attends cabinet, suggested that she was not aware of No10’s plan for bypassing the so-called Benn Act, which is designed to stop the UK leaving the EU without a deal on Halloween, but hinted that the prime minister had something in his “back pocket for when you need to pull it out”.
The Brexiteer became the second minister of the day to suggest that No10 had a secret strategy for getting around the law, after Sajid Javid, the chancellor said he believed he knew what the plan was.
Ms McVey’s comments will fuel reports that cabinet ministers have not been briefed on how No10 plans to deliver Brexit on time if Mr Johnson fails to secure an exit deal. The prime minister has repeatedly said he will take the UK out of the EU on 31 October whatever the circumstances, while also abiding by the law – prompting speculation that his senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, believes there is a loophole in the law.
Speaking at a fringe event at the Conservatives’ annual conference in Manchester, Ms McVey, who initially stood against Mr Johnson for the party leadership, said: “What we know is that Boris Johnson is working incredibly hard to get the best deal he possibly can.
“I don’t know what is going on necessarily in Boris’s head and where he’s thinking of going. He is in all those meetings with the rest of the team – I’ve got a domestic brief.”
She added: “I can only go on what Boris is saying, that we are definitely coming out on that date – that’s what he’s saying. There are various things coming into play and I’m not going to explain them here because obviously sometimes you need something in your back pocket for when you need to pull it out.
“But for me democracy is key and we need to leave and do a Brexit that people recognise as Brexit.”
Her suggestion that the government has a plan to bypass the Benn Act, which says that Mr Johnson must seek a further Brexit extension if no deal is in place by 19 October, came hours after Mr Javid hinted that he had been informed of a possible escape route.
Asked whether he knew how the government would get around the law, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think I do.
“The intention of the law is clear and I do think it has absolutely made it harder for the government to get the deal that we all want to see. That said, it can still be done.
“It’s not about getting around the law… I don’t really want to discuss the detail of this law, it’s a pretty fresh new law, but we are also clear at all times we, of course, like any government, we will absolutely observe the law.”
He added: “Of course, every government should observe all laws at all times.
“We’re taking a careful look at that law.”