Jeremy Corbyn’s plan to prevent a no-deal Brexit by being installed as a caretaker prime minister has been rejected by some of the key MPs needed for its success.
The SNP and Plaid Cymru signalled they could support the Labour leader’s proposal of a no-confidence vote, extension to the departure deadline under his premiership and a general election.
But, crucially, the Liberal Democrats rejected the plan, as did senior Tory Remainer Dame Caroline Spelman and the Independent Group for Change.
Mr Corbyn proposed forming a government on a “strictly time-limited” basis to prevent a sudden departure under Boris Johnson, hoping he could win over his personal critics to support the anti-no-deal cause.
But Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson, who gained her 14th MP on Wednesday, called for a less divisive figure to form a unity government.
“There is no way he can unite rebel Conservatives and Independents to stop Boris Johnson. It is not even certain that he would secure all the votes of Labour MPs,” Ms Swinson said.
She instead suggested veteran MPs Ken Clarke or Harriet Harman for the role because they are “respected on both sides of the House”.
Anna Soubry, leader of the Independent Group for Change, which has five MPs, said Mr Corbyn “is not the person given he struggles to maintain the confidence of his own backbenchers”.
Dame Caroline also said she could not support the proposal.
“I could not support a Corbyn Government, end of,” she told the Birmingham Mail.
“I am not going to vote against my own government in a vote of no confidence.”
But SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon did not rule out the backing of her party’s 35 MPs.
“It’s no secret, I’m not the greatest fan of Jeremy Corbyn, but we won’t rule out any option if it helps avert what is a looming catastrophe of a no-deal Brexit,” she told the BBC.
Ms Sturgeon appealed for Ms Swinson to “rethink” her dismissal, as did Green MP Caroline Lucas.
To be clear - @theSNP remains willing to work across party lines and explore all options to stop a no deal Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn’s suggestion is not the only possible option - but given the circumstances, nothing should be ruled out at this stage. @joswinson should rethink. https://t.co/n7npDMo0bu— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) August 15, 2019
Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts offered her cautious support, saying the party is open to a unity government regardless of who leads it.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said some Conservative MPs had “responded positively” to meet over the plan.
And Mr Corbyn appeared to have convinced some of his opponents within his party on the basis of blocking no-deal.
Backbench MP Wes Streeting said the Lib Dems were “wrong to reject” Mr Corbyn’s offer, saying it should be “treated seriously” by everyone trying to stop no-deal.
But divisions were laid bare by a statement from Labour Against Antisemitism.
Spokeswoman Fiona Sharpe said: “We are concerned that many MPs, some who have previously professed themselves allies in the fight against anti-Semitism, appear willing to disregard the concerns of the British Jewish community to promote and enable a Jeremy Corbyn government.”
Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey appealed to critics by saying the move is “not about implementing Labour policy” but about avoiding the “unfathomable” damage a no-deal could cause.
“What I would say is issue a plea to Jo Swinson particularly. I know that Jo wants to avoid a no-deal situation as we do, and we think this is the simplest and most democratic way of doing that,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Mr Corbyn announced the plan in a letter on Wednesday to opposition leaders and Tory MPs Dominic Grieve, Sir Oliver Letwin and Dame Caroline.
Mr Grieve and Sir Oliver have not yet commented. Neither has Nick Boles, the independent MP who quit the Conservatives over Brexit and who also received the appeal.
The Labour leader said he would seek a no-confidence motion soon after the House returns from its summer recess on September 3. This would need the support of the majority of MPs.
He would then seek an extension to the Article 50 process to delay the UK leaving the European Union past the October 31 deadline.
Then, as PM, he could table a motion for an early general election which would succeed with the support of two-thirds of the seats in the Commons, in the same fashion as Theresa May’s vote in 2017.
Mr Corbyn said Labour would campaign in that election for a second referendum on EU membership with the option to Remain being available to voters.
- Press Association