Opposition MPs are planning to seize control of parliament next week potentially forcing the disclosure of more government documents, bringing a motion to censure Boris Johnson and strengthening legislation against a no-deal Brexit.
A cross-party group of MPs met at Jeremy Corbyn’s office in Westminster to plan how to continue efforts to prevent a no deal Brexit, with discussions centred around how to use the time from Monday to Wednesday next week while Conservative MPs are in Manchester for their annual conference.
The group, which also included the Scottish National party’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, and the Liberal Democrat leader, Jo Swinson, discussed whether to bring legislation to force Johnson to seek an extension to article 50 sooner than 19 October in order to rule out a no-deal Brexit immediately.
However, a decision was put off until a further meeting next Monday, amid concerns that 21 former Conservatives would not back it until Johnson had been given a chance to strike a deal with the EU at the 17 October summit.
Other ideas included a proposal by Plaid Cymru to bring a censure motion against Johnson. But the most likely option appeared to be a plan to take control of the order paper for SO24 emergency debates or more humble addresses in order to force the government to publish more documents, such as more Yellowhammer no-deal planning papers and the government’s legal advice on prorogation. These have the potential to embarrass Johnson ahead of an election.
Corbyn committed to whipping Labour MPs to vote for a general election as soon as a Brexit extension was secured. “Once we have agreed on the extension and carrying out the law of this country, at that point, and I made that very clear in my conference speech, we will support a general election,” he said.
Government ministers have been instructed to go to Manchester for the party’s conference as usual, despite parliament having voted to continue sitting. The event, due to start on Sunday and continue until Wednesday, comes the weekend after Labour’s party conference in Brighton and two weeks after the Liberal Democrats held theirs in Bournemouth.
A government business motion for parliament to be adjourned at the end of the day on Thursday and resumed next Thursday was rejected by 306 to 289, a majority of 17. The prime minister said he was disappointed by the decision.
“For many years it has been the case that parliament has been in recess so that parties can hold their party conference,” Johnson’s spokesman said. “As the prime minister has made clear the Conservative party conference will go ahead as planned.”
The SNP’s Joanna Cherry said that “parliamentary democracy and scrutiny during the current constitutional crisis” should take precedence over the governing party’s conference. She echoed comments made by Corbyn on Wednesday, who said the prime minister must not be able to “run away from accountability yet again”.
A senior government source said there were no plans to change the date of the Johnson’s conference speech, which is scheduled for Wednesday, when prime minister’s questions are usually held. Another member of the government could therefore stand in for the prime minister in parliament.
Seven of the 21 Tories who had the whip withdrawn over Brexit this month voted with the opposition to stop parliament being adjourned for the conference. Among them were the former cabinet ministers Ken Clarke, David Gauke, Justine Greening and Dominic Grieve. Amber Rudd, who resigned from her position as work and pensions secretary in solidarity with the 21, also voted against.
The meeting of opposition parties on Thursday took place the day after parliament was hastily reconvened following a decision by the supreme court that the advice the prime minister gave to the Queen on the prorogation of parliament was unlawful.
Speaking following the meeting, Corbyn expressed concern that Johnson had not given an explicit undertaking that he would abide by the so-called BennAct, which is designed to force the prime minister to ask for an extension of article 50 if parliament does not pass a deal with the EU by 19 October.
He said the law was “not a matter of choice” for Johnson. “It’s an act of parliament that was passed,” said Corbyn. “We will be taking parliamentary action on this again next week to ensure that the prime minister does not crash us out of the EU on 31 October without a deal.”
Liz Saville Roberts, the Plaid Cymru leader in the Commons, said Boris Johnson could not be allowed to “simply brush off breaking the law”. “Plaid Cymru will work with other opposition parties to hold him to account and are actively considering means in parliament that would see the prime minister censured,” she said.
The Green party MP Caroline Lucas tweeted an image of herself with other opposition politicians. “Away from the bombast and bullying of the prime minister, the real work goes on. MPs from across the house continue to meet to stop his disastrous crash-out Brexit,” she wrote. “This is what our politics should look like.”
A Plaid Cymru source said opposition MPs were getting on better than expected. “It surprises all of us how easy these meetings are,” they said.