Boris Johnson would be acting like a “bank robber” if he refuses to delay Brexit to avoid no-deal, John Bercow has said.
The outgoing Commons speaker gave a thinly-worded warning to the prime minister that he could only take Britain out of the EU next month with MPs’ consent.
He added claims by some legal campaigners that Mr Johnson would try not to obey the law were a “non-starter, period”.
“It is astonishing that anyone has even entertained the notion,” Mr Bercow claimed, in his first public comments since the government suspended parliament for five weeks in the run up to Brexit.
Mr Johnson has said he would rather be “dead in ditch” than comply with the law passed by opposition MPs and 21 Tory rebels forcing him to try to delay Brexit to avoid no-deal.
The government has insisted it will not break the law, but Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday it will “test” the legislation to its “limit”.
Mr Bercow hit back at the suggestion on Thursday, saying: “One should no more refuse to request an extension to 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. We should not be in this linguistic territory.”
Refusing to comply “would be the most terrible example”, he told an audience at the Bingham lecture in central London.
But if Mr Johnson did try to flout the law, he said he would be prepared to allow “additional procedural creativity” for parliament to stop it happening.
“Neither the limitations of the existing rulebook or ticking of the clock will stop it doing so,” Mr Bercow confirmed.
The speaker, who will step down by 31 October, added: “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 also predicted the historic scenes in parliament this month will continue when it is recalled for the Queen’s Speech on 14 October, calling them a “mere prelude for yet more drama”.
But the comments struck an angry reaction from Tory Brexiteers, including Ben Bradley.
He told Sky News: “It’s not up to John Bercow to tell the prime minister what he can or cannot do.
“To be blunt and short – just like Bercow – he would be a far better speaker if he at least pretended to be impartial and to work within his remit.”
Mr Johnson has pledged to deliver Brexit “do or die” on time, but must now comply with a law that says he has to ask Brussels to delay Brexit if he gets no new deal from them or fails to win MPs’ support for no-deal.
The EU will ultimately decide whether to grant a delay, expected to be at a summit showdown on 17 and 18 October.
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