John Bercow has vowed “creativity” in Parliament if Boris Johnson ignores the law designed to stop a no-deal Brexit.
The Commons Speaker also said in a speech that the only possible Brexit was one backed by MPs.
A new law, passed before the suspension of Parliament, forces the PM to seek a delay until 31 January 2020, unless a deal or no-deal exit is approved by MPs by 19 October.
The PM has said he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than ask for a delay.
Delivering a lecture in London, Mr Bercow said: “Not obeying the law must surely be a non-starter. Period.”
He said it would be a “terrible example to set to the rest of society”.
“The only form of Brexit which we will have, whenever that might be, will be a Brexit that the House of Commons has explicitly endorsed,” he said.
“Surely, in 2019, in modern Britain, in a parliamentary democracy, we – parliamentarians, legislators – cannot in all conscience be conducting a debate as to whether adherence to the law is or isn’t required.”
He called it “astonishing” that “anyone has even entertained the notion”.
If the government comes close to disobeying the Act, the MP said that Parliament “would want to cut off such a possibility and do so forcefully”.
“If that demands additional procedural creativity in order to come to pass, it is a racing certainty that this will happen, and that neither the limitations of the existing rule book nor the ticking of the clock will stop it doing so,” he added.
He also compared any attempt to shun the law over the extension of Article 50 – the process by which the UK leaves the EU – with a bank robber excusing their crime by giving their stolen cash to charity.
“One should no more refuse to request an extension of Article 50 because of what one might regard as the noble end of departing from the EU as soon as possible, than one could possibly excuse robbing a bank on the basis that the cash stolen would be donated to a charitable cause immediately afterwards,” he said.
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The law forcing the PM to seek a delay unless MPs vote for a deal or no deal received royal assent on Monday, the final day that MPs sat in this session.
Parliament was prorogued for five weeks in the early hours of Tuesday.
The UK is due to leave the EU on 31 October, but the new law passed by MPs could extend that deadline.
On Thursday, Mr Johnson insisted the UK “will be ready” to leave the EU by the current deadline without an agreement “if we have to”.
In response to the publication of the government’s Yellowhammer document, an assessment of a reasonable worst-case scenario in the event of a no-deal Brexit, Mr Johnson reiterated it was “the worst-case scenario”.
“In reality we will certainly be ready for a no-deal Brexit if we have to do it and I stress again that’s not where we intend to end up,” Mr Johnson said.
Mr Bercow has announced he will stand down as Commons Speaker and MP at the next election or on 31 October, whichever comes first.
‘No reason to be optimistic’
The Speaker’s warning came as the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator told political leaders in the European Parliament on Thursday that he could not say whether contacts with the UK government would result in a deal by mid-October.
Michel Barnier, in a speech to MEPs, suggested that negotiating a new withdrawal agreement remained uncertain despite discussions between Mr Johnson’s team and the EU.
“I cannot tell you objectively whether contacts with the government of Mr Johnson will be able to reach an agreement by mid-October,” he said.
“While we have previously reached an agreement, as far as we can speak, we have no reason to be optimistic.”
He added: “We will see in the coming weeks if the British are able to make concrete proposals in writing that are legally operational.”
Theresa May agreed a deal with the EU on the terms of the UK’s departure. It included how much money the UK must pay to the EU as a settlement, details of the transition period, and citizens’ rights. It also covered the so-called “backstop”, which ensures that no hard border exists between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit even if there’s no deal on the future relationship in place by the end of the transition period. So-called ‘meaningful votes’ have been held on Theresa May’s deal three times. On all three occasions, MPs rejected the deal
If countries don’t have free-trade agreements, they usually trade with each other under rules set by the World Trade Organization. Each country sets tariffs – or taxes – on goods entering. For example, cars passing from non-EU countries to the EU are charged at 10% of their value. But tariffs on some agricultural products are much higher – dairy averages more than 35%. If the UK chooses to put no tariffs on goods from the EU, it must also have no tariffs on goods from every WTO member.
Currently, there are no border posts, physical barriers or checks on people or goods crossing the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The backstop is a measure in the withdrawal agreement, between Theresa May and the EU, which is designed to ensure that continues after the UK leaves the EU. It comes into effect only if the deal deciding the future relationship between the UK and EU is not agreed by the end of the transition period (31 December 2020). Until the deal on the future relationship is done, the backstop would keep the UK effectively inside the EU’s customs union but with Northern Ireland also conforming to some rules of the single market. Critics say a different status for Northern Ireland could threaten the existence of the United Kingdom and fear that the backstop could become permanent
A trade agreement under which two or more countries do not put tariffs (taxes) on goods coming in from other countries in the union. The countries also decide to set the same tariff on goods entering from outside the union. The EU customs union includes EU member states and some small non-EU members and forbids members from negotiating trade agreements separately from the EU. Instead trade agreements are negotiated collectively.
The border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. After Brexit, it will become the only land border between the UK and the European Union.