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Tory rebels flirt with Corbyn over plan to oust Boris Johnson

London: At least four Conservative rebel MPs, plus the leaders of the Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party, have agreed to meet with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to discuss a plan to evict Boris Johnson from Downing Street before he can take the country into a no-deal Brexit.

Jeremy Corbyn wants to be caretaker PM of a shortlived anti-Brexit government.

Jeremy Corbyn wants to be caretaker PM of a shortlived anti-Brexit government.Credit:AP

But Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson said she would prefer a compromise candidate such as Tory veteran Ken Clarke or Labour stalwart Harriet Harman to replace Johnson as a caretaker prime minister.

On Tuesday Corbyn wrote to other opposition leaders and key Tory backbenchers offering to helm a “strictly time-limited” caretaker government that would extend the Brexit deadline from October 31 then call a general election.

The plan would require first a successful vote of no confidence in the government – possibly as early as September 3 when parliament resumes.

The House of Commons would then have a 14-day window to find a majority backing an alternative government and prime minister, whom the Queen would then (according to the plan) install at Number Ten.

Jo Swinson, of the Liberal Democrats.

Jo Swinson, of the Liberal Democrats.Credit:Bloomberg

However the plan also comes with significant risks. If Corbyn wins a no confidence motion against the government, but parliament cannot then find a majority for an alternative government, then Johnson would likely stay at Downing Street with parliament dissolved pending an election – which Johnson could schedule after Brexit.

Corbyn warned that under Johnson a “deeply damaging” no-deal Brexit could be imposed on the country on October 31 against the will of the parliament and the country.

“The government has no mandate for No Deal,” Corbyn said.

Parliament has previously voted on a motion opposing a no-deal Brexit. If Britain exits the EU without a formal withdrawal deal then experts predict a short-term shock and long-term damage to the country’s economy and industry.

Something to smile about? Jeremy Corbyn leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party.

Something to smile about? Jeremy Corbyn leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party.Credit:AP

However, a no-confidence motion would be hard to win, as a significant number of Tory Remainers would have to vote for the downfall of their own government.

Downing Street insiders have mocked what they call “Meatloaf Remainers” who “would do anything to stop Brexit, but they won’t do that”.

But Tory MP Guto Bebb, a former defence minister who quit the government in 2018 to back a second Brexit referendum, suggested on Thursday he could back the plan.

"I think there are other alternatives that are open to us, but I do think that those who have said that they will do anything necessary to stop the long-term damage of a no-deal exit must take seriously this type of offer," he said.

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Bebb said a “short-term Jeremy Corbyn government is less damaging than the generational damage that would be caused by a no-deal Brexit”.

And the four Conservative former ministers that Corbyn directly courted with his letter also responded positively.

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve, along with Sir Oliver Letwin, Dame Caroline Spelman and Nick Boles replied in a joint letter saying “we agree that our common priority should be to work together in Parliament to prevent no-deal Brexit and welcome your invitation to discuss the different ways that this might be achieved”.

They said they would be “happy” to meet with Corbyn “as well as colleagues from other parties”.

Grieve said on Thursday the choice between a no-deal Brexit and a Corbyn government was “one of the considerations that one has to make”.

However, Dame Caroline told reporters “I could not support a Corbyn government, end of”.

Transport Secretary Grant Schapps, a Johnson loyalist, said it was “absolutely extraordinary that any Conservative MP considered even for one minute installing Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street”.

Swinson, who had earlier rejected Corbyn’s plan as “nonsense”, later agreed to meet him “to discuss how we can work together on a deliverable plan to stop no-deal, including the option of uniting behind an MP who can command a majority in the House [of Commons]”.

The plan also has the tentative backing of the Scottish National Party, with Westminster leader Ian Blackford saying he was happy to meet Corbyn “anytime any place”.

Leader Nicola Sturgeon said the SNP would “explore all options to stop a no-deal Brexit” and though Corbyn’s plan was not the only option, “nothing should be ruled out at this stage”.

But the Johnson government still has a narrow working majority in the Commons, and some pro-Brexit Labour MPs might abstain from a vote to install a PM to delay Brexit, even if it was their own leader.

According to one count, unless more Tory rebels show their colours a Corbyn-led caretaker government would stand a very slim chance of winning the backing of parliament.

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