It will not be possible for parliament or the speaker to block a no-deal Brexit if the government is determined to deliver it, Andrea Leadsom has said.
In a swipe at Tory leadership rivals such as Jeremy Hunt and Rory Stewart, who argue that MPs will not permit EU withdrawal without an agreement, Ms Leadsom said: “You can’t block no deal. You can’t put into law that you can’t leave without a deal.”
She insisted that, as prime minister, she would be ready to drop her own Brexit bills in order to stop MPs using them as a means to delay departure.
Ms Leadsom has put forward proposals for a “managed exit” which would retain elements of Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement such as citizens’ rights provisions, alongside a temporary free trade deal. But she has made clear she is ready to leave without a deal on 31 October if necessary.
But other candidates insist that the clear majority against no deal in the Commons will make it impossible unless a prime minister suspends parliament to get past the 31 October deadline. And John Bercow, the speaker, has said it is “unimaginable” that the Commons would be denied its voice on the matter.
Speaking to a Westminster lunch, Ms Leadsom said: “The speaker does not have executive powers. These are reserved for the government. Parliament can express opinions and amend or reject legislation, but it’s simply not the case that the speaker has the means to stop a no-deal Brexit.
“The law says that we are leaving at the end of October, and it’s very difficult to see, with the government determined to leave at the end of October, how you could prevent that from happening.”
Ms Leadsom, who has previously clashed with the speaker after he allegedly called her a “stupid woman”, said she was “disappointed” that he had not resigned after nine years as expected. And she held up a “B***cks to Bercow” poster in a jokey reference to their feud.
The current legal default is for the UK to leave the EU with or without a deal on 31 October, said Ms Leadsom.
“We are leaving at the end of October unless there is fresh legislation – a new law – that prevents that from happening,” she said.
Her plan involves tabling two bills to provide her “managed exit” by the end of October.
If MPs attempted to block no deal by amending these pieces of legislation, the government she led could simply drop the bills, meaning Brexit would go ahead on Halloween but provisions in areas such as citizens’ rights would be lost, she said.
Ms Leadsom, who formally launched her leadership bid earlier in the day, also said frontrunner Boris Johnson’s plans for a tax break for higher earners were “not credible”.
“In a hung parliament, you cannot have fundamental tax changes,” she said.
“As a Conservative, I do believe in people getting to keep more of their hard-earned income. But I look at the parliamentary arithmetic and think that has to wait until we have a majority.
“It is just not credible for anybody to be promising huge tax cuts for anybody in this parliament.”
Mr Johnson has promised to lift the threshold for the 40 per cent higher rate of income tax from £50,000 to £80,000 at a cost of about £10bn.
Ms Leadsom also spoke out against the BBC’s decision to end free TV licences for some over-75s.
“Free TV licences for the over-75s is a Conservative election manifesto pledge,” she said. “We have to make sure it happens.
“There’s no question that the over-75s must keep those free TV licences.”
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