Jeremy Corbyn has urged Labour activists and MPs to “go forward to win an election for the people of this country,” after the supreme court ruled the prime minister’s decision to shut down parliament was unlawful.
In a rousing speech, hastily brought forward from the traditional Wednesday lunchtime slot in response to the supreme court judgment, the Labour leader slammed what he called Johnson’s “born-to-rule government of the entitled”.
He said: “Boris Johnson has been found to have misled the country. This unelected prime minister should now resign.
“He thought he could do whatever he liked just as he always does. He thinks he’s above us all. He is part of an elite that disdains democracy. He is not fit to be prime minister.”
He did not set out how Labour plans to proceed when MPs return to Westminster, but called for a general election once a no-deal Brexit has been definitively ruled out.
“This crisis can only be settled with a general election. That election needs to take place as soon as this government’s threat of a disastrous no deal is taken off the table. That condition is what MPs passed into law before Boris Johnson illegally closed down parliament.”
Corbyn used his speech to set out Labour’s stall for that election. He announced a radical new plan to set up a state-backed manufacturer of generic drugs, to bring down the medicines bill for the NHS, and highlighted a string of other policies the party hopes will prove popular on the doorstep, including a “green industrial revolution”, free prescriptions, Crossrail for the north and free personal care for the elderly.
Framing Labour as the party on the side of the people against the elite, Corbyn attempted to neutralise attempts by Johnson to position himself against an establishment attempting to thwart Brexit.
“In a shameless bid to turn reality on its head, Boris Johnson’s born-to-rule Tories are now claiming to be the voice of the people. A political party that exists to protect the establishment is pretending to be anti-establishment,” said Corbyn.
“Johnson and his wealthy friends are not only on the side of the establishment, they are the establishment. They will never be on the side of the people when supporting the people might hit them and their super-rich sponsors where it hurts – in their wallets and offshore bank accounts.”
A Labour spokesman did not necessarily rule out a general election before 31 October, but said Corbyn would need to be convinced that the government would comply with the Benn bill, which obliges Johnson to seek an extension of article 50 if he has not had a Brexit deal passed in parliament by 19 October.
“The legislation has to be implemented, and we will be pressing the government to do that,” he said. Labour has been in discussions with the other opposition parties about how best to respond to the supreme court judgment.
Corbyn is not expected to table a motion of no confidence immediately, as he would be unlikely to secure the support of other opposition parties, who fear that Johnson could use the chaotic aftermath of the vote to secure a no-deal Brexit.
If the prime minister lost a vote of no confidence, it would be followed by a 14-day period in which MPs could try to assemble an alternative governing majority.
Corbyn wrote to other opposition leaders earlier this year saying he would seek to lead a short-term, caretaker government, for the sole purpose of extending article 50 and triggering a general election.
However, the Liberal Democrat leader, Jo Swinson, has expressed concerns about whether Corbyn could win the necessary cross-party support, and rebel Tories would be extremely reluctant to propel the Labour leader into Downing Street, even temporarily.
Some allies of the Labour leader believe he should instead offer to call a referendum on Brexit, with a general election to follow afterwards.
But Corbyn’s speech appeared to point to a determination to secure a general election first.
In his speech, Corbyn also gave a staunch defence of the Brexit position passed by Labour conference on Tuesday after weeks of wrangling.
“We need to get Brexit sorted and do it in a way that doesn’t leave our economy or our democracy broken. The Tories want to crash out without a deal and the Liberal Democrats want to cancel the country’s largest ever democratic vote with a parliamentary stitch-up.
“Labour will end the Brexit crisis by taking the decision back to the people with the choice of a credible leave deal alongside remain. That’s not complicated. Labour is a democratic party that trusts the people.”
Several senior party figures, including Emily Thornberry and Keir Starmer, had hoped Labour would pass an alternative motion, committing the party to campaigning for remain ahead of a general election.