LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government on Thursday challenged opponents of Brexit in parliament to collapse the government or change the law if they want to thwart Britain’s exit from the European Union.
More than three years since the Brexit referendum, the United Kingdom is heading towards its gravest constitutional crisis in decades and a showdown with the EU over Brexit due in just 63 days time.
In his boldest step since becoming prime minister last month, Johnson enraged opponents of a no-deal Brexit on Wednesday by ordering the suspension of parliament for almost a month.
The speaker of the lower house of parliament, John Bercow, called this a constitutional outrage as it limited the time the 800-year-old heart of English democracy has to debate and shape the course of British history.
But Jacob Rees-Mogg, a Brexit supporter in Johnson’s ruling Conservative Party who is in charge of managing government business in parliament, said opponents were confecting “the candy-floss of outrage” and dared them to do their worst.
“All these people who are wailing and gnashing of teeth know that there are two ways of doing what they want to do,” Rees-Mogg told the BBC. “One, is to change the government and the other is to change the law.”
“If they don’t have either the courage or the gumption to do either of those then we will leave on the 31st of October in accordance with the referendum result.”
An original exit date in March was delayed as Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, tried in vain to rally lawmakers behind the terms of Britain’s withdrawal.
The divorce deal she negotiated with the EU was rejected three times by parliament. Johnson has said he is looking for a reworked agreement with the bloc but has promised the country will leave on Oct. 31, with or without a withdrawal deal.
European Union ministers urged Britain to choose an orderly Brexit, with some openly expressing concern that Johnson’s move to suspend parliament increased the risk of a chaotic split.
Johnson’s Brexit negotiator David Frost was in Brussels for talks with the executive European Commission on Wednesday, but Dutch Foreign Minister Stephan Blok said the sides had not managed to bridge divisions.
Three-month sterling implied volatility soared, indicating traders are bracing for more big price swings between now and the expected Oct. 31 Brexit date. JPMorgan raised the probability of a no-deal Brexit to 35% from 25%.
Johnson’s move to suspend parliament for longer than usual at one of the most crucial junctures in recent British history was cheered by U.S. President Donald Trump but provoked strong criticism from some British lawmakers, including some Conservatives, and media.
Ruth Davidson quit as Conservative Party leader in Scotland on Thursday, saying she could no longer juggle the demands of being a mother – she recently had her first child – with the balancing act of Brexit.
After years of tortuous negotiations and a series of political crises since the United Kingdom voted 52% to 48% to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum, Brexit remains up in the air. Options range from an acrimonious divorce on Oct. 31 and an election to an amicable exit or even another referendum.
In effect, Johnson’s order to suspend parliament forces opponents of a no-deal Brexit in parliament to show their hand and act in as few as four days sitting next month. Parliament returns from its summer holiday on Sept. 3.
An election is likely.
“Boris is obviously preparing for an election,” said Conservative lawmaker Ken Clarke.
The opposition Labour Party will seek an emergency debate on Brexit next week, the party’s trade spokesman Barry Gardiner said, outlining plans which could give them an opening to pass legislation to block a no-deal Brexit.
There is a small majority against a no-deal Brexit in the 650-seat House of Commons, although it is unclear if opponents of Johnson within the Conservative Party would collapse his government in a vote of no confidence.
“It does look like next week is essentially the only opportunity that parliament will have to maintain some control over this process and ensure that it has a say before we leave without a deal,” Conservative lawmaker David Gauke said.
Editing by Janet Lawrence and Frances Kerry