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Call to impeach Boris Johnson as MPs are again set to block PM's election plan

Boris Johnson on a visit to Scotland last week Credit: PA, Andrew Milligan

MPs are expected to vote today against another attempt by Boris Johnson to trigger a General Election and it's likely that parliament will be suspended although MPs of all parties are also ready for any surprise actions by the government.

Events of last week showed that everything could change before the likely 10pm votes with genuine possibilities including the Prime Minister's resignation, a statement that he'll defy the law and risk jail, a confidence vote or some other extraordinary move.

Plaid Cymru is urging other opposition parties to be ready to impeach the Prime Minister, a process which would see him face a parliamentary trial if he continues to ignore the anti-no-deal Brexit law passed last week.

But away from Westminster there are signs that Boris Johnson's supporters in the Conservative party and other Brexiteers are willing to back him despite or maybe because of the unprecedented crisis in the Commons.

What to expect today

Boris Johnson addresses the House of Commons Credit: House of Commons

MPs have a long day of business ahead with a large number of votes, mainly on technical matters related to the Northern Ireland act but at the end of that they're due to be asked by the Government to trigger a General Election.

They will almost certainly refuse to do so for a second time. Labour and the SNP are due to abstain. Plaid Cymru will vote against.

After that, it's expected that the government will move to prorogue parliament (in other words to suspend it) late tonight.

But opposition MPs don't know what to expect from this unpredictable Prime Minister so have ordered MPs to remain in Westminster until at least Tuesday.

Those opposition parties say they'll work together to ensure that parliament keeps sitting until at least 19th October in order to ensure that the government requests the delay and to prevent any attempt to trigger a general election in the meantime.

If parliament is prorogued tonight that effort will have to wait until it returns on October 14th.

One thing unlikely to happen today or tonight is a no-confidence vote. Opposition parties had considered seizing control of the commons to sit through the night in order to do just that but decided against it.

You'll be amazed to learn that the government itself could table a no-confidence motion but I understand that's also unlikely to happen.

It's also reported that civil servants have been preparing for the possibility that Boris Johnson could resign in order to force Jeremy Corbyn to try to form a government and to request a Brexit delay from the EU. The argument goes that such a move would damage Labour and boost the Conservatives chances in a General Election.

One Tory insider told me that that - positioning for a brutal General Election - is what most of this [parliamentary chaos] is about.

Other rumours include that the government could offer the prospect of a return to those party grandees who were expelled after rebelling last week and that it could declare a state of emergency.

Impeachment call

Adam Price and Liz Saville Roberts in Westminster Credit: PA, Victoria Jones

In that chaotic mix, a call to impeach the Prime Minister is already one of the least outlandish ideas.

Plaid Cymru's leader in the commons is urging other opposition party leaders to be ready to vote to start impeachment proceedings if Mr Johnson carries out his threat to ignore the anti-no-deal law passed last week.

If followed through, the process would lead to a parliamentary trial in which he would face a panel of Lords to explain his actions.

Plaid Cymru tried this technique in 2004, when its leader, Adam Price who was then an MP, tried to impeach Tony Blair over the Iraq war. Back then the move won the support of a backbench Tory MP: Boris Johnson.

Plaid has dug out quotations from a Telegraph column he wrote at the time in which he writes:

He [Tony Blair] treated Parliament and the public with contempt, and that is why he deserves to be impeached: that is, to be formally held to account, in the way that Adam Price suggests. It does not mean that he would be forced to resign: only that he would have to explain himself, as Palmerston had to explain himself when he was impeached in 1848.

– Boris Johnson writing in 2004

Plaid Cymru's Parliamentary leader, Liz Saville Roberts, said:

Boris Johnson has already driven a bulldozer through the constitution, so no longer are ideas like impeachment far-fetched.

I will tell other opposition party leaders that we need to be ready to impeach Boris Johnson if he breaks the law.

We cannot play the Prime Minister at his own cynical game. We need to be ready to fight fire with water, outsmart the smartest, think the unthinkable.

Impeachment was a process backed by Boris Johnson not so long ago. A man sacked for serially lying backed the impeachment of Blair for the same reason: lying. If the Prime Minister becomes a law-breaker, we have an even stronger case for impeachment than the very cause he advocated back in 2004.

– Liz Saville Roberts MP, Plaid Cymru

Outside the bubble

There's no doubting the bind that Boris Johnson finds himself in Westminster and its one that he can't ignore. As Prime Minister his power stems from parliament and he's answerable to it.

But there are also signs that a big part of his strategy (or rather the strategy of his senior adviser, Dominic Cummings) is to portray himself as the champion of the 17m people who voted to leave the EU against MPs determined to thwart Brexit.

In that scenario, all of this, including the brutal treatment of senior Conservatives like Ken Clarke and Phillip Hammond, the resignations of Amber Rudd and his own brother, Jo Johnson, and even his willingness to go to jail rather than ask for a delay could play well for him in the coming election.

'All the howling and screeching is just in SW1 [i.e. Westminster] and Number 10 knows that,' said one source.

I don't apologise for reporting that howling and screeching. This is a crisis in parliament and my job in this chaotic time is to try to explain what's going on in Westminster.

Amber Rudd resigned from her position in the British Government and surrendered the Conservative Party whip on Saturday. Credit: PA, Victoria Jones

But if the strategy is aimed at Brexit supporters outside Westminster I wanted to know if it's working so I've spent the weekend asking Conservative and Brexit Party activists how they feel.

One long-standing Tory told me that 'the feeling we are getting from members and members of the public is anti-parliament. People just seem to have had enough and just want out.'

A Conservative Remain voter said, 'My personal thoughts are that the issue is with parliament not the PM. Self serving, self righteous MPs have not and are not implementing the will of the people and speak of the United Kingdom like we are some third world country and economy and that we won't be able to cope having left. I think this is wrong, unpatriotic and foolish.'

Another said that 'I speak to lots of people in work who would never ever vote Conservative but they all like Boris and are saying they will vote for him. There is a general consensus that this leaving with a deal is nonsense. People feel that the remainers are deliberately blocking Brexit in the hope they can stop it. This is not about a deal, it's about stopping Brexit. Personally this is the happiest I have been in the party since the days of Maggie.'

There was more circumspection from one who said, 'Whether you agree or disagree with him, he's brought things to a head and wants to go to the country to decide.'

'I'm still behind Boris,' a fifth said. 'He's doing a good overall job especially on the international scene. From my perspective, this sitting of Parliament needs to come to a close. It's been an unpleasant two years in the Commons. There needs to be a fresh start, deliver Brexit preferably with a deal, and use it for a period of national renewal.'

Amongst Brexit party activists there's suspicion of the Conservative government and distrust of Dominic Cummings which stems from the Leave rift during 2016.

But it seems many are eager for some kind of pact with the Tories to maximize the Brexit vote in a General Election.

'Boris was welcomed and we all want him to succeed,' one Welsh Brexit party activist told me. 'A pact is much wanted and as Nigel Farage promised last week, the Brexit Party will put country before party and stand down. But there needs to be something in it for us. So they agree not to stand in our target seats etc. I think the Conservatives are still too arrogant to agree that.'

Those target seats include a number in the South Wales Valleys. In exchange for not standing in the seats of Conservative Brexiteers like David Jones in Clwyd West, the Brexit Party is asking for a free run in Leave-voting Labour seats like Caerphilly and Rhondda where the Tories are unlikely to win.

Another activist told me, 'In the Brexit Party, the feeling amongst us is exactly as Nigel has stated it, there isn't a single person I've spoken to not willing to stand aside in a seat to allow a pact with the Tories to allow us to help them deliver a meaningful Brexit.'

They added: 'The offer is genuine and the scope of and reason for it clear: the Tories would still have to swallow hard to accept it and it may well be too much for some. I suspect it is at least in part, the reason for some of the most recent Tory exodus over the weekend. No one would have had to swallow harder than Mr. Cummings though of course.'

One activist who's been selected as a candidate told me they would be willing to stand aside if a pact were to be agreed. 'This isn't about me,' they said.

Another grassroots campaigner told me that 'people are more political than they were in 2016 and Brexiteers are p****d off, keeping informed and talking tactically.'

They said that a Labour-voting friend told them 'he and his mates will all be voting conservative to make sure Brexit happens and the usual loyalties don't apply in this instance. They may well revert after, but Labour voters tend to detest Corbyn, especially the ex-services patriotic types. And there are many of them. And many won't forget this betrayal. And we all feel betrayed. And people see through the crap spouted by those in the Bay, they are not impressed by any of this, especially the we-know-better attitude of our betters.'

The Prime Minister and his team are calculating that parliament's crisis will only confirm views like this and win him a majority in the coming election.

In other words, don't expect him to back down nor to follow the usual rules. Expect the unexpected.