London: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing a fresh rebellion in his cabinet, with a group of ministers poised to resign due to concerns that he is leading the country towards a no-deal Brexit, The Times newspaper reported on Wednesday.
Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan, British Minister for Northern Ireland Julian Smith, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, Health Minister Matt Hancock and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox are all on a “resignation watch list”, according to The Times report.
An unnamed cabinet minister cited by the newspaper said that a “very large number” of Conservative members of parliament will quit if it comes to a no-deal Brexit.
The Times said that ministers had warned Johnson in a cabinet meeting about the “grave” risk of the return of direct rule in Northern Ireland and raised concerns about Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s top adviser.
“Cabinet will set the strategy, not unelected officials. If this is an attempt to do that then it will fail,” the report quoted another cabinet minister as saying.
While the Times newspaper did not specify how many Conservative lawmakers oppose a no-deal scenario, the Financial Times reported early on Wednesday that at least 50 members of parliament from the party will revolt against a general election manifesto pledging to pursue a no-deal Brexit.
Certain lawmakers from the party are considering running on a softer individual Brexit platform or even standing aside altogether as a Tory candidate, the FT report added.
The media reports come as the European Union accused Britain of playing a “stupid blame game” over Brexit after a Downing Street source told Reuters a deal was essentially impossible because German Chancellor Angela Merkel had made unacceptable demands.
With just over three weeks before the United Kingdom is due to leave the European bloc, the future of Brexit remains deeply uncertain as both London and Brussels position themselves to avoid blame for a delay or a disorderly no-deal Brexit.
Meanwhile, anti-Brexit campaigners claimed victory after Scotland’s highest court decided on Wednesday to wait before ruling whether to force Prime Minister Boris Johnson to seek a delay to Britain’s EU divorce date if he has not struck a deal in the next 10 days.
An alliance of rebels in Johnson’s Conservative Party and opposition lawmakers voted through a law, known as the Benn Act, last month which requires him to ask for a Brexit delay if there is no deal in place by October 19.
The chances of any agreement with the European Union by next week appear slim at the moment with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar saying there were big gaps between the two sides.
Johnson has said Britain will leave the bloc on October 31 as scheduled and that he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than ask for any further delay.
This week, anti-Brexit campaigners asked Scotland’s Court of Session to issue an order stating Johnson must abide by the Benn Act and to send a letter to the European Union on his behalf if he refused to do so himself, using a power known as “nobile officium”.
The court said normally it would have rejected the challenge but it had decided to delay consideration of the case until October 21, after the date Johnson will have had to ask for an extension if no divorce deal had been agreed.
“It is clear that there will be changes in circumstances over the next 10 days,” the court’s three judges said in their ruling.
“The court will for these reasons continue consideration of the reclaiming motion and the petition to the ‘nobile officium’ until Monday, 21 October, by which time the position ought to be significantly clearer. At that time the court will expect to be addressed on the facts as they then present themselves.”
Government lawyers had told the court that Johnson accepted that he must carry out the requirements of the Benn Act, even though he has publicly rejected asking for any further delay.
“We have extracted from him a promise that he will comply with the law,” said Jo Maugham, a tax lawyer who was one of those behind the Scottish case.
“If he breaks that promise, he will face the music — including possible contempt proceedings. And the courts are likely to make good any failure on his part.”