Tory grandee Ken Clarke has told Sky News he “probably would” back Jeremy Corbyn to be caretaker prime minister in order to avoid a no-deal Brexit – provided he could be kept “under control”.
The former chancellor, who is the longest-serving male MP in the Commons, said he would be prepared to support the Labour leader if it meant stopping Britain leaving the EU without an agreement in place at the end of October.
He said: “So long as it were absolutely certain we could keep Jeremy under control and he wouldn’t have the slightest chance of implementing any bits of his Labour manifesto, I hate to tell you but I probably would.”
However, Mr Clarke said such a prospect was unlikely because Mr Corbyn was “the least suitable person you could imagine”.
He continued: “But I don’t think it’s going to happen, because I must be one of a tiny number of Tories prepared to contemplate that.
“The unfortunate truth for Jeremy, who I get on quite well with – I don’t agree on anything political with him apart from a bit on Europe – is he’s a red rag to a bull on all sides.
“So he’s about the least suitable person you could imagine.”
The idea of Mr Corbyn as a caretaker PM has been put forward by the Labour leader as a potential means of avoiding no-deal.
Under this scenario, MPs would oust Boris Johnson in a no-confidence vote and Mr Corbyn would head a time-limited government of national unity.
He would delay Brexit to avoid no-deal and then call a general election.
But this plan floundered as the Liberal Democrats and potential rebel Conservative MPs made clear that they could not stomach Mr Corbyn in Downing Street.
Opposition parties held a meeting on Tuesday and agreed to pursue “legislative approaches” to stopping a no-deal Brexit.
In layman’s terms, this means passing a law to force Mr Johnson to extend Article 50 – the section of an EU treaty that sets the deadline for a country to negotiate its exit from the bloc.
But just a day later, the PM moved decisively to curtail their room for manoeuvre by suspending parliament for five weeks over September and October.
This reduces the time for opposition MPs to try and stop no-deal.
Mr Clarke said this should focus minds.
“The key thing, the most difficult thing, is in the very short time we’ve now got [is] to get a cross party majority to agree what they’re in favour of and what they want to do,” he said.
“I haven’t the slightest doubt that the majority of MPs are against leaving with no-deal.
“The trouble is that soft Brexiteers and People’s Vote [second referendum] campaigners and all the others haven’t shown enough compromise, pragmatism, to come together and produce a secure majority which we’d be absolutely certain of passing the legislation to bind the government to a more sensible course.”
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The PM’s move has sparked a backlash, but he has insisted the suspension is to allow his government to set out its “exciting agenda” in a Queen’s Speech.
Mr Johnson has also said that MPs will still have “ample time” to debate Brexit.
But Mr Clarke, who served as chancellor under Margaret Thatcher, said the PM was not being entirely upfront with the public on his reasons for suspending parliament.
“Well, he keeps a straight face very well when he says that, but I don’t think for a moment that he believes it,” he said.
Asked to give his assessment of the latest developments in British politics, Mr Clarke said: “I get the impression from the latest moves that he’s realised that he’s almost certainly put us on course to head for no-deal.”
He added: “I think he’s concentrating on the patriotic presentation of these robust lines to explain why no-deal happened and why it wasn’t his fault.”
Mr Clarke himself has been suggested as a possible interim PM, along with Labour’s Harriet Harman.
He said such a prospect was “way down the track”, but did not rule it out.
“I’ve already said several times if serious, intelligent, sensible people thought that was in the national interest to do so, of course I will,” Mr Clarke said.
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