Bercow insists Johnson must obey law and ask for Brexit extension – as it happened

Last modified: 08: 30 PM GMT+0

Rolling coverage of the day’s political developments as they happen, including a speech from the outgoing Speaker on what Brexit has taught us (so far)

Closing summary

We’re going to close down this live blog now, so here’s a summary of the evening’s events.

  • Three judges accused the prime minister of misleading the electorate. The Scottish appeal judges who ruled Boris Johnson unlawfully prorogued parliament agreed that he did so to prevent proper scrutiny of his Brexit strategy, not for the reasons the government has given.
  • The law requiring the prime minister to ask for a Brexit delay is just as important as that which outlaws bank robbery, the Commons Speaker has stressed. John Bercow said that, whatever the perceived political importance of leaving the EU quickly, the prime minister would be no more justified in ignoring the law than would be a bank robber who promised to hand their loot to charity after the deed. “Not obeying the law must surely be a non-starter. Period,” he told an audience of lawyers.
  • The UK should consider drawing up a codified constitution, Bercow added. The Speaker said parliament had succeeded in reasserting its authority over the executive in recent years, but that a codified constitution might be required for it to complete that work.
  • You can see a round-up of the day’s earlier events here.

And, for those wishing to read yet more, my colleagues Rowena Mason and Owen Bowcott have the full story:


Judges accuse Johnson of misleading voters

The three Scottish appeal judges who ruled Boris Johnson had unlawfully prorogued parliament have bluntly accused the prime minister of misleading voters on his true reasons for suspending parliament.

They agree unanimously it was to prevent proper scrutiny of his Brexit strategy – and for no other reason – in their official rulings issued by the Scottish courts late on Thursday afternoon.

Read the judges’ opinion in full here (pdf).

Lord Carloway, the lord president, said prorogation was sought “in a clandestine manner” when Downing Street knew 75 MPs and peers were taking the government to court to block it.

No 10 also did this knowing prorogation would stymie debate about Johnson’s Brexit plans and then gave the court no clear reason to justify prorogation, as well as the five-week period Johnson got from the Queen, which they described as an “extraordinary length of time.” Carloway said:

The circumstances demonstrate that the true reason for the prorogation is to reduce the time available for parliamentary scrutiny of Brexit at a time when such scrutiny would appear to be a matter of considerable importance, given the issues at stake.

[Put] shortly, prorogation was being mooted specifically as a means to stymie any further legislation regulating Brexit.

Lord Drummond Young is particularly blunt, arguing that the UK government’s failure to provide the Scottish court with any valid reasons for proroguing Westminster for five weeks supported their conclusions it was unjustified.

If no reason is given, in the present circumstances, I am of opinion that the decision to prorogue parliament for five weeks out of the seven remaining before the United Kingdom is scheduled to leave the European Union leads inevitably to the conclusion that the reason for prorogation was to prevent parliamentary scrutiny of the government. I find it impossible to see that it could serve any other rational purpose.

Lord Brodie, the third judge, said that, despite the weight courts need to give to the royal prerogative and a government’s right to use procedures to suit its purposes, this was an “egregious” case of misuse of prorogation.

Procedural manoeuvres are the stuff of politics, whether conducted in parliament or in lesser bodies. However, when the manoeuvre is quite so blatantly designed ‘to frustrate parliament’ at such a critical juncture in the history of the United Kingdom, I consider that the court may legitimately find it to be unlawful.


Bercow draws his address to a close, saying that the evolution and renaissance of parliament has been a positive development in the last decade. Now, he adds, it is “time to ask whether a written constitution is what we need to allow us to complete the voyage”.


He says he was previously sceptical but has come to conclude that it’s worth establishing a royal commission or a Speaker’s conference to look into the idea. Bercow says an act could be passed in the interim to make sure parliament’s authority is ensured.


The Speaker turns to the question of a codified constitution, saying the UK’s in a group of only three nations not to have one. He says the UK has been “travelling in the direction” of such a constitution.

Concerned he has sat too long on the fence, Bercow adds:

Let me make myself crystal clear: Ladies and gentlemen, 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.

Bercow insists Johnson must obey law and ask for Brexit extension

The Speaker has issued a stinging rebuke to those who support the idea of the prime minister, Boris Johnson, refusing to ask Brussels for a delay to Brexit – as the law requires.

Not obeying the law must surely be a non-starter. Period. Surely, in 2019, in modern Britain, in a parliamentary democracy, we – parliamentarians, legislators – cannot in all conscience be conducting a debate as to whether adherence to the law is or isn’t required.

What conceivable moral force do the public’s elected representatives have in seeking to tackle antisocial behaviour, in prosecuting with greater vigour and imagination and relentlessness the fight against knife crime, in arguing that the state must protect itself against all sorts of nefarious illegality, if we are to treat for a moment with the proposition that it might be in order, in the name of some higher cause, to disregard a law enacted by parliament?

It is astonishing that anyone has even entertained the notion ... It would be the most terrible example to set to the rest of society.

One should no more refuse to request an extension of 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.


What comes next, Bercow asks? Only three plausible possibilities:

  1. A new withdrawal agreement and political declaration that will require “heavy lifting” by parliament if it appears it could command a majority.
  2. No new agreement, or one the Commons cannot not accept, and a vote by MPs for a no-deal Brexit. He says such a deliberate action – as opposed to “something coming about by default or happenstance” would be legitimate.
  3. Neither support for an agreement, nor a no-deal Brexit, meaning the prime minister has to ask for an extension. “This is clearly legitimate,” he says, adding that, while there may be people who disagree with the move, it is – in procedural terms – he says that the Benn act is “orderly”.


“The Brexit episode and the restoration of parliamentary will should not be seen in isolation,” Bercow, says, in conclusion.

Moreover, Bercow stresses the importance of the backbench business committee in making sure issues that are not necessarily a priority for the government or the opposition are brought to the attention of the Commons.

One example he cites is the Hillsborough disaster, which was debated in the Commons after being scheduled by the backbench business committee.

Another device Bercow says has become important is the emergency debate, which MPs used last week to begin the process of trying to rule out a no-deal Brexit.

He explains that the instrument gives MPs the chance to, in effect, take control of the agenda of the Commons away from the executive, should a majority of the house wish to do so.

The increasing use of such instruments, he claims, has been key to the Commons getting “off its knees” and providing more effective scrutiny of the government on behalf of the electorate.


Meanwhile, three Scottish appeal court judges have refused to order the publication of the unredacted No 10 memos in the case against Boris Johnson’s prorogation of parliament:

BREAKING Lord Carloway &c refuse bid by Cherry et al, @BBCScotland and @NewsUK to order publication of unredacted No 10 prorogation memos as full rulings released early

— Severin Carrell, Esq (@severincarrell) September 12, 2019

BREAKING Lord Carloway says @BorisJohnson's remarks in Cabinet show he really wanted to #prorogue Westminster to promote his Brexit strategy, not for party conferences or a Queen's speech - that was why it was illegal in his view #courtofsession

— Severin Carrell, Esq (@severincarrell) September 12, 2019


Turning to his first point, Bercow says there has been a renewal of the Commons’ desire to and confidence in its ability to scrutinise ministers. Principal in that process, he says, has been the increasing use of an old device: the urgent question.

This allows any MP to ask the Speaker to get a minister to respond to the issue, where it’s deemed important and wouldn’t normally form part of the day’s parliamentary business.

The urgent question, Bercow says, had “withered away” in recent times. Only two were laid in the 12 months before he was elected to be Speaker. That, he says, was something he had decided to try to change, if given the role.

And, in the roughly 10 years he’s fulfilled it, Bercow says there have been 658 urgent questions.

Bercow begins by calling the most recent spell in the Commons short, yet extremely eventful. And he pays tribute to Tom Bingham, the eminent British judge for whom the lecture the Speaker is delivering is named.

He says he will cover three topics:

  1. That the revival of the Commons is not the one-off product of Brexit, but part of a wider renewal of the UK’s legislature.
  2. To offer some reflections on what would and would not be an appropriate response to the recent vote to back an anti-no-deal act.
  3. To offer thoughts on how Brexit has changed his view of the UK’s constitution and whether it’s time to consider codifying a constitution.


The outgoing Commons Speaker, John Bercow, is due to deliver a speech to the legal thinktank, the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, entitled: Process of Discovery: What Brexit has taught us (so far) about Parliament, Politics and the UK Constitution.

He’s due to start any moment and we’ll be covering it here.


Afternoon summary

  • Gordon Brown, the Labour former prime minister, has said that the government is “still not telling the truth” about medicine and food shortages that would result in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Before a speech in Edinburgh, Brown said:

The truth is that we are not taking back control but losing control - of medical supplies and food and energy prices.

The worst-case scenario document downplays the risks to medical supplies, the threat to household budgets and the damage inflicted on the most vulnerable.

We now know from Yellowhammer that no-deal Brexit is an unnecessary act of self-harm but ministers are still not telling the truth about the sheer scale of the self-inflicted wounds.

We need to move beyond a world dominated by fast finance.

This report presents one way to achieve that: through a comprehensive financial transactions tax that doesn’t leave loopholes for major areas of financial activity.

The report shows that a comprehensive financial transactions tax can raise revenue for our under-resourced public services, improve the resilience of financial markets, and ensure that finance serves the people and the wider economy.

That’s all from me for today.

Thanks for the comments.

Boris Johnson speaking to apprentices on a visit to the NLV Pharos, a lighthouse tender moored on the river Thames.
Boris Johnson speaking to apprentices on a visit to the NLV Pharos, a lighthouse tender moored on the river Thames. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA


My colleague Jennifer Rankin in Brussels is less optimistic about the prospect of a Brexit deal than Charles Grant. (See 4.34pm.) Here is a Twitter thread with her analysis of where we are.

EU27 diplomats were briefed on Brexit talks this morning and were told the British had presented no proper, written proposals, on replacing the Irish backstop.

— Jennifer Rankin (@JenniferMerode) September 12, 2019

In Wed’s meeting David Frost and team outlined ideas on customs and manufactured goods in the context of alternative arrangements to backstop.
But the EU side do not think the ideas are adequate and continue to press for details.

— Jennifer Rankin (@JenniferMerode) September 12, 2019

UK also asked for changes to the political declaration - a reference to a “best-in class” free trade agreement as goal.

EU side repeat any trade deal must ensure a level playing field to avoid “Singapore-on-Thames” race to the bottom.
Refer to March 2018 guidelines.

— Jennifer Rankin (@JenniferMerode) September 12, 2019

Officials in Brussels don’t think a breakthrough is imminent. A return to the NI-only backstop is seen by some as the only landing zone, but UK continues to say no backstop.

— Jennifer Rankin (@JenniferMerode) September 12, 2019

I asked one politician closely following Brexit if they were optimistic about a deal by 31 Oct.

“No. I just don’t see the political majority, the political will, the leadership. The Labour leadership is extremely weak. They have got no clue what they want.”

5. Ends

— Jennifer Rankin (@JenniferMerode) September 12, 2019


The Labour MP Emma Lewell-Buck has told ITV’s Acting Prime Minister podcast that she would rather go into coalition with the Brexit party than with the Lib Dems. That is not because of any affection for the Brexit party - she says she despises them - but because she could not accept a coalition with a party committed to revoking article 50.

Labour MP @EmmaLewellBuck told @PaulBrandITV why she would choose the Brexit Party over the Lib Dems to go into a Brexit coalition.

Watch the full episode here:

Listen on Apple Podcasts:… and on Spotify.#ITVActingPM

— ITV News (@itvnews) September 12, 2019

Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform, is always worth reading on Brexit. Here is a Twitter thread with his assessment of the latest state of play.

A deal between EU and UK is more likely than I had thought - my conclusion after 2 days of meetings with EU, member-state and UK officials. Senior figures on EU side say they can scrap backstop as long as alternatives deliver on protecting a) single mkt; b) GFA. /1

— Charles Grant (@CER_Grant) September 12, 2019

They also say BJ has indicated that he can live with rest of withdrawal agreement if backstop goes. In some key national capitals BJ has made a quite good impression. But some of David Frost's meetings in BXL have lowered expectations on EU side, conveying hard red lines. /2

— Charles Grant (@CER_Grant) September 12, 2019

The essence of the deal would be to replicate effects of N I-only backstop. On agri, as BJ has said, NI would follow EU rules. In other areas: a combo of regulatory alignment with EU, and discreet controls - 'dedramatised, dematerialised, delocalised' - away from border. /3

— Charles Grant (@CER_Grant) September 12, 2019

France, Germany, Commission could go along with this, but only if UK produces serious proposals, which it has not yet done. It would have to accept role for ECJ. But what about Ireland, which says it prefers prospect of no deal to a deal sans backstop? /4

— Charles Grant (@CER_Grant) September 12, 2019

The other member-states do not want to put pressure on Ireland. But if the UK gets serious about a deal and shows flexibility, there would be gentle encouragement for Dublin to accept something almost equivalent to backstop. /5

— Charles Grant (@CER_Grant) September 12, 2019

Of course the difficulties are immense and the gaps may prove unbridgeable. Some in DUP & ERG would not like to see N I partially aligned with EU rules. But an element of consultation for Stormont on rule changes could help. /6

— Charles Grant (@CER_Grant) September 12, 2019

Also, add EU officials, in one respect BJ is right: the new UK law v no deal has taken pressure off Irish govt and UK Parliament to compromise. But some EU govts think BJ may be serious about a deal, perhaps before Oct 31. ENDS @CER_EU

— Charles Grant (@CER_Grant) September 12, 2019

No reason now for EU27 to grant another Brexit extension, says Luxembourg PM

Xavier Bettel, the prime minister of Luxembourg, said today that there was no reason for the EU to grant the UK another Brexit extension. He said:

We see no extension for Brexit, when there is no reason to. At the moment, there is no reason to give an extension.

When there are concrete reasons ... we will discuss whether we will give a new mandate or a new extension, but that is not the case at the moment.

As long as there aren’t any concrete proposals, there is no reason for us to reopen anything.

Bettel’s comments reflect the current state of play. In practice it is widely assumed that at the EU summit starting on 17 October EU leaders probably would be willing to agree to another extension, particularly to enable a general election.

Xavier Bettel
Xavier Bettel Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters

Antoinette Sandbach, one of the 21 pro-European Tories who lost the whip after rebelling against the government on Brexit last week, has said that she is now fully committed to the idea of holding a second referendum. In an open letter to constituents, she says this was necessary to “avert disaster”.

Why I am writing to my constituents to say why I now support a #peoplesvote @peoplesvotefor1 @peoplesvote_hq #Yellowhammer

— Antoinette Sandbach (@Sandbach) September 12, 2019


Here is a question from below the line.

@Andrew: What are the implications of the Government refusing to comply with the motion to provide all communications around proroguing Parliament? Are they in contempt? Can/will it be taken further? Thanks.

The “humble address” requiring the government to hand over private messages from Number 10 aides about prorogation was not law. Effectively it was an order from parliament, and it is for parliament to apply a sanction.

Last year, when the government refused to comply with a “humble address” demanding the release of the attorney general’s legal advice to cabinet about the withdrawal agreement, MPs retaliated by passing a motion saying the government was in contempt of parliament. The government then agreed to hand over the document.

MPs may well try the same tactic this time. But Boris Johnson is likely to be less bothered about being found in contempt of parliament than Theresa May (his de facto chief of staff, Dominic Cummings, did not seem to care about being found in contempt of parliament on another matter earlier this year). It is possible Johnson would just ignore the vote.

At that point, parliament starts running out of options. There is nothing it can do about non-MPs found in contempt of parliament. The Commons can refer individual members to the standards committee, and that committee can recommend punishments such as suspension, or even expulsion, but it is very, very hard to imagine the Commons voting to act like that against a prime minister.

These are from the BBC’s Adam Fleming in Brussels.

UK officials say yesterday's talks between David Frost and the European Commission were serious, but EU27 diplomats were told the British proposals were "aspirational" and "concepts" at a debrief this morning. (1)

— Adam Fleming (@adamfleming) September 12, 2019

UK proposed N Ireland and Ireland be separate customs and regulatory territories. Customs checks would take place in business premises not on the border. There'd be an "enhanced market surveillance mechanism" for industrial goods using surveillance, data and tough penalties. (2)

— Adam Fleming (@adamfleming) September 12, 2019

The UK reiterated there could be a commitment to an open border in the Withdrawal Agreement with the details agreed in the transition period -- which British officials insisted would end in 2020 and not be extended. (3)

— Adam Fleming (@adamfleming) September 12, 2019

Again there was a discussion about security and defence in the Political Declaration, with the UK asking for additional references to sovereingty which EU officials interpret as a "looser" relationship than the one Theresa May pursued. (40

— Adam Fleming (@adamfleming) September 12, 2019

Nicola Sturgeon has said the Scottish government’s copy of the Yellowhammer no-deal Brexit scenario plans was marked “base scenario”, disputing claims by Michael Gove that the documents were a worst-case scenario.

Sturgeon told first minister’s questions at Holyrood it was “completely outrageous” that the UK government was contemplating a situation where medicines would be in short supply. She said it was essential that Westminster was urgently reconvened, to allow MPs to question ministers on Brexit and the Yellowhammer forecasts.

The first minister told MSPs:

The question for the prime minister and the government is why on earth parliament is still suspended - if any government needed scrutiny, it’s this one.

Spot the difference: Scottish Govt's copy of Yellowhammer says it's a 'base scenario', while UK Govt's says it's a 'reasonable worst case'.
Scottish Govt says it's 'puzzling' and 'curious'

— Tom Gordon (@HTScotPol) September 12, 2019


Earlier this week my colleague Peter Walker reported on how data privacy campaign groups and Labour have expressed alarm after it emerged Downing Street had ordered departments to centralise the collection and analysis of user information from the government’s main public information website ahead of Brexit. Here is is story.

Today the Information Commissioner’s Office has suggested it is seeking assurances about this initiative.

We have contacted Government regarding the collection of personal data on in order to fully understand its approach to compliance with data protection law and whether any further action is necessary.

— ICO (@ICOnews) September 12, 2019


Boris Johnson revives plan for £15bn bridge from Scotland to Northern Ireland

Boris Johnson has revived his plan to build a bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland - saying that it would be a “very good” idea and that it would cost £15bn.

Speaking to children during his visit to lighthouse tender NLV Pharos on the Thames, Johnson said he had recently been discussing the possibility of constructing a bridge over the Irish Sea. He said:

[I was talking yesterday] about building a bridge from Stranraer in Scotland to Larne in Northern Ireland – that would be very good. It would only cost about £15bn.

Johnson originally floated this idea in an interview with the Sunday Times last year. At the time his proposal was considered fanciful, but this week Channel 4 News revealed that government officials have been asked to produce a paper on the costs and benefits of such a plan.

The original Sunday Times story about Johnson’s proposal provoked a memorable letter to the paper from a retired offshore engineer who said the idea was “about as feasible as building a bridge to the moon”.

Boris Johnson looking at a model container ship with school children as he visits the NLV Pharos, a lighthouse tender moored on the Thames.
Boris Johnson looking at a model container ship with school children as he visits the NLV Pharos, a lighthouse tender moored on the Thames. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images


Here is our latest story on the judgment from the high court in Belfast on Brexit. I’ve corrected the earlier post on this (see 11.38am) because it said the prorogation legal challenge was thrown out. In fact, it was the argument that a no-deal Brexit would undermine the Good Friday agreement that was rejected. A claim about prorogation being unlawful was excluded on the grounds that it is being decided in the cases in England and Wales.

And here is the full text of the judgment (pdf).

MPs accuse ministers of being 'overly secretive' about £97m spent on Brexit consultants

The Commons public accounts committee has published a report (pdf) this morning accusing the government of being “overly secretive” about the money it is spending on consultants who are helping it prepare for Brexit. The bill has come to at least £97m, the committee says.

Here is an extract.

Departments have made extensive use of consultancy firms in support of their preparations for Brexit, spending at least £97m by April 2019. Departments have been overly secretive about what the consultants are doing, as they have been before in providing information on other aspects of the Brexit preparations. When departments have published information on consultancy work, usually later than they should have, they have failed to meet the government’s own transparency standards. Departments took too long to publish information on the contracts being let, and some contracts were over-zealously redacted before publication.


Letwin claims majority of MPs would back holding second referendum before election if Brexit deadlock continues

And talking of MPs frustrating a no-deal Brexit, Sir Oliver Letwin, one of the MPs who helped to draw up the bill intended to stop a no-deal Brexit on 31 October, has given an interview to the Evening Standard in which he suggested that MPs might pass another law to hold a referendum on Brexit before a general election.

This interview with Oliver Letwin by ⁦@JoeMurphyLondon⁩ ⁦@EveningStandard⁩ is important. He says Brexit should be resolved before an election. So unless Parliament votes for a Brexit deal, there will be a referendum before a general election

— George Osborne (@George_Osborne) September 12, 2019

Tony Blair, the former Labour leader, and Tom Watson, the Labour deputy leader, have both argued this week (see here and here) that it would be better to hold a referendum before a general election because otherwise the general election would end up as a proxy referendum on Brexit, with domestic issues sidelined. Blair has also argued that Jeremy Corbyn’s unpopularity could boost the chances of the Tories winning even though voters have doubts about Boris Johnson’s hard-Brexit strategy.

Labour wants to hold a general election first, which makes it very hard to see how any backbench attempt to seize control of the Commons order paper and pass legislation saying a referendum should come first would succeed.

The Hilary Benn bill designed to rule out a no-deal Brexit on 31 October only passed the Commons because all opposition parties (except for the DUP, if you count them as opposition) voted for it.

In his interview with the Standard Letwin did not explain why he thought Corbyn might change his stance on this. But Letwin did claim that MPs would come round to his view that it would be best to have a referendum first, assuming Johnson did not get a deal that could pass the Commons. Here is an extract from the interview.

[Letwin] would definitely oppose trying to decide Brexit in the hurly-burly of a general election campaign. And he is pretty sure MPs are ready to keep postponing the election until after Brexit is decided.

“I can’t see how you can do that [resolve Brexit] very well in a general election where it will get, as Alan Duncan said in a marvellous speech this week, all muddled up in other things,” he said.

Was he in agreement with Tom Watson, the deputy Labour leader, who yesterday called for a referendum to be held before the election? Sir Oliver replied: “We need to resolve this issue of Brexit before there is a general election so that the election can be about who you want to have govern you, and so the resolution of the Brexit issue is separate. I would prefer that and, like Tom, I would prefer that to be done through the acceptance of a deal in parliament.”

And where would that leave the prime minister’s plea for an immediate general election with Brexit on the ballot paper?

Sir Oliver replied in a musing tone: “I’ve heard all sorts of predictions of the election timing – next week, next minute, next day – but I have never been confident they were right because I think we will get a majority in the House of Commons who agree with the view that I take, which is that it is better to get the Brexit issues resolved first and have an election after.

“That means either you get a deal and get it in place, which is relatively quick, or you have a deal followed by a referendum, which is relatively long.”


In his broadcast interview this morning Boris Johnson claimed that the government’s position on prorogation had been endorsed by the high court in London. (See 10.50am.)

It is worth stressing that that is a very partial account of what the high court actually said. It rejected the claim that prorogation was unlawful. But it did not accept Johnson’s argument that his decision to prorogue had nothing to do with wanting to limit the opportunities for MPs to frustrate a no-deal Brexit. The court did not take a view on this at all. Instead it rejected the legal challenge on the grounds that decisions to prorogue parliament are inherently political, and therefore outside the scope of the courts.

There is a short summary of what it argued here, and the full summary is here (pdf).

Here is more from the ruling in the Belfast high court rejecting a challenge to the government’s Brexit strategy. In his written judgment Lord Justice Bernard McCloskey said:

I consider the characterisation of the subject matter of these proceedings as inherently and unmistakably political to be beyond plausible dispute.

Virtually all of the assembled evidence belongs to the world of politics, both national and supra-national.

Within the world of politics the well-recognised phenomena of claim and counterclaim, assertion and counter-assertion, allegation and denial, blow and counter-blow, alteration and modification of government policy, public statements, unpublished deliberations, posturing, strategy and tactics are the very essence of what is both countenanced and permitted in a democratic society.


Labour to study report on reducing working hours without loss of pay

In the past John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, has floated the idea of moving towards a four-day working week. He commissioned the distinguished economist Lord Skidelsky to produce a report for Labour on reducing working time and today the 60-page report (pdf) has been published.

Entitled How to achieve shorter working hours, it is a long way from a blueprint for a full roll-out to a standard four-day working week. But it does propose various mechanisms that could nudge employers in that direction.

Here is an extract from the conclusions:

Individuals choose how much to work but within the limits set by the institutions of a particular society. These include the market system, but they also include cultural norms and the ways in which power and wealth are distributed inside and outside the market. At present, the rules governing employment are largely set by financial logic. This is inimical to a civilised reduction in hours. There is therefore a strong argument for setting up countervailing institutions to ‘nudge’ society in a direction which science and technology makes possible, and which is also desired by most people. A balance will need to be struck between what workers want from employment and what employers can afford to give. The game can be played for lower stakes than at present, but the stakes must not be so low as to bankrupt an economy, which still largely relies on private enterprise to ‘deliver the goods’.

Commenting on the report, McDonnell said:

Something is very wrong with how the world of work has changed in recent years.

Millions are working long hours, while others don’t get the regular hours they need.

I’d like to thank Lord Skidelsky for his meticulously researched report which we will study and draw on when looking at how we can reduce the typical working week without loss of pay.

Labour said it was particularly interested in three of Skidelsky’s recommendations: setting up social partnership forums for different sectors of the economy; using state procurement policies to set conditions for pay and working hours in private firms (which would not be eligible for contracts if they did not comply); and ending the opt-out from the EU working time directive.


David Sassoli, the new president of the European parliament, has been holding a press conference. He said that any Brexit agreement would have to have a backstop, that the UK had not yet proposed any credible alternative, and that the European parliament would be open to a Brexit delay if the UK was going to hold an election.

These are from my colleague Jennifer Rankin, the Sun’s Nick Gutteridge and ITV’s James Mates.

European parliament president David Sassoli: "Up to now - and I would like to stress this point - the United Kingdom hasn't proposed any alternatives [to backstop] and anything that has been legally credible."

He has just met Michel Barnier.

— Jennifer Rankin (@JenniferMerode) September 12, 2019

EU Parliament President David Sassoli, after meeting with Michel Barnier this morning: 'You can’t have an agreement without the backstop. It couldn’t really be any clearer. That’s the position of the EU Commission, the position of the EU institutions including the EU Parliament.'

— Nick Gutteridge (@nick_gutteridge) September 12, 2019

Sassoli says: 'We’re not ruling anything out. If solutions are proposed they will be debated, all of them, provided they respect the guiding principles of the EU. But up to now I can say the UK hasn’t proposed any alternatives, anything that’s been legally credible and workable.'

— Nick Gutteridge (@nick_gutteridge) September 12, 2019

Sassoli says possible options include returning to the EU's original proposal for a Northern Ireland only backstop and revisiting the Political Declaration 'and making it into a legally binding document'. These points are included in an EP resolution to be voted on next week.

— Nick Gutteridge (@nick_gutteridge) September 12, 2019

EP President Sassoli, asked about Michel Barnier's assessment of the Brexit talks in their meeting this morning, says: 'Unfortunately the signals that we’re getting aren’t indicating that there’s any initiative that could reopen the negotiations, and we’re unhappy about that.'

— Nick Gutteridge (@nick_gutteridge) September 12, 2019

President of European Parliament David Sassoli:
1) No new proposals have been received from the UK.
2) There will be no agreement without a backstop.
3) We will be open to an extension to Article 50 if there’s going to be an election in UK.

— James Mates (@jamesmatesitv) September 12, 2019


It is 2-1 to the government in the courts now on Brexit. As my colleague Owen Bowcott reports, judges in Belfast have rejected a legal challenge arguing that the government’s Brexit policy would undermine the peace process. It has also shelved a challenge on prorogation, on the grounds that this is being dealt with by the courts in England and Wales.

The supreme court will come to a final, binding ruling after a hearing starting on Tuesday next week.

Here is Owen’s story:

UPDATE: I’ve corrected this post because the high court in Belfast rejected the claim that the government’s Brexit policy would undermine the Good Friday agreement. It also considered a challenge against prorogation, but it excluded this on the grounds that it is being dealt with by the cases in England and Wales.


Boris Johnson refuses to back minister who raised concerns about judges being seen as biased

Boris Johnson has given a pooled interview for broadcasters. I have already covered his comments denying that he lied to the Queen. (See 10.50am.) Here are the other lines from the interview.

  • Johnson refused to back the views of the business minister Kwasi Kwarteng, who aired concerns last night that judges were seen as biased. Asked if he considered the judiciary to be independent, Johnson said:

I think the British judiciary, the United Kingdom judiciary, is one of the great glories of our constitution – they are independent. And believe me, around the world people look at our judges with awe and admiration, so I’m not going to quarrel or criticise the judges.

Clearly there are two different legal views – the high court in England had a very different opinion and the supreme court will have to adjudicate in the course of the next few days, and I think it’s proper for politicians to let them get on and do that.

Asked about Kwarteng saying people questioned the independence of the judiciary, he went on:

It is very important, as I say, that we respect the independence of the judiciary. They are learned people … There’s a separation of powers in this country.

In an interview on The Andrew Neil Show last night, Kwarteng said his own personal view was that judges were impartial, but he wanted to acknowledge that “many people … are saying that the judges are biased.” He went on: “Many people, many leave voters, many people up and down the country, are beginning to question the partiality of the judges. That’s just a fact.”

  • Johnson said the government had been “massively accelerating” preparations for a no-deal Brexit. Asked about the Operation Yellowhammer document, he said:

It is very important to understand what this document is. This is a worst-case scenario which civil servants obviously have to prepare for. But in the last few months, and particularly in the 50 days since I’ve been prime minister, we’ve been massively accelerating our preparations.

We’re trying to get a deal. And I’m very hopeful we will get a deal with our European friends on October 17 or 18 or thereabouts. But if we have to come out on October 31 with no deal, we will be ready ...

What you are looking at here is just the sensible preparations, the worst-case scenario, that you would expect any government to do.

  • He listed some of the areas he expected to feature in the Queen’s speech. He said:

We need a Queen’s speech. We need to get on and do all sorts of things at a national level … We are going to need bills on education, on health, on housing, on technology, on our vision for investing in science, [the] space programme, on environment, stopping the export of waste overseas and plastics – there are a huge number of things that we want to get on with and do.

UPDATE: Here is a video of the interview.


Boris Johnson denies lying to Queen about reasons for prorogation

Boris Johnson has denied lying to the Queen over the suspension of parliament, insisting such claims were “absolutely not” true. Speaking on a visit to NLV Pharos, a lighthouse tender, which is moored alongside HMS Belfast on the Thames, he was asked if he had lied to the Queen when he asked her to prorogue parliament for five weeks. He replied:

Absolutely not. The high court in England plainly agrees with us but the supreme court will have to decide. We need a Queen’s speech, we need to get on and do all sorts of things at a national level.

He went on to say he was “very hopeful” there would be a Brexit deal.

Parliament will have time both before and after that crucial summit on 17 and 18 October to talk about the Brexit deal.

I’m very hopeful that we will get a deal, as I say, at that crucial summit. We’re working very hard – I’ve been around the European capitals talking to our friends.

I think we can see the rough area of a landing space, of how you can do it – it will be tough, it will be hard, but I think we can get there.

The government has repeatedly claimed it suspended parliament because it wants a Queen’s speech in October – even though, at five weeks, this is the longest prorogation for almost 90 years, and it is well known ministers wanted to limit the chances available to MPs to pass laws that might obstruct a no-deal Brexit.

Formally, it was up to the Queen to prorogue parliament, but she had no choice in the matter, or the length of the suspension, because constitutionally she is obliged to follow the advice of her prime minister.

The allegation that Johnson might have lied to the Queen about the real reasons for prorogation was fuelled by yesterday’s judgment from the Scottish court of session that the government did not tell the truth about the real reason for prorogation. In its summary of the judgment, the court said:

All three first division judges have decided that the PM’s advice to the HM the Queen is justiciable, that it was motivated by the improper purpose of stymying parliament and that it, and what has followed from it, is unlawful.

UPDATE: It was misleading of Johnson to claim that the high court in London agreed with the government because it did not take a view on whether he had been telling the truth or not about the real reasons for prorogation. See 12.52pm for more.


Thank you to MrPlebby in the comments below for pointing out that, while Amber Rudd may be cautiously supporting proportional representation now, two years ago, when she was not sitting as an independent MP, she was firmly against. This is what she said in a post that is still on her website.

I am afraid that I do not agree with your views on PR, and fully support first past the post. This tried-and-tested system ensures stability and clear governance, preventing disproportionate influence by minority parties with minimal public support, who typically end up holding the balance of power in PR systems.


Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, made the same argument as Michael Gove (see 9.22am) when he appeared on the Today programme and was asked about the Operation Yellowhammer report. He said it was a “planning assumption” and the government was addressing the potential problems identified in the document. He told the programme.

That is why we are doing things about it. That is why the chancellor opened his chequebook, that’s why we are spending the money on doing lots of things to mitigate those assumptions.

Every day, we plan everything from whether we need to find alternative suppliers, whether we need to go out to the private sector to charter things, whether we need to plan using our army or our police forces in certain scenarios.

Wallace was on the programme to talk about a government announcement to build five frigates at Rosyth dockyard in Fife. The Downing Street press release is here, and here is my colleague Dan Sabbagh’s story.


Police officers from all over the country should be drafted in to help handle traffic in Kent in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the chairman of the county council has said. As the Press Association reports, Paul Carter told the Today programme that he wanted “boots on the ground” and assurances that arrangements were in place for police officers and Highways England staff nationwide to be ready to “man the pumps”. He said:

I want assurance from Highways England and Kent police that they have got the reciprocal arrangements with other police forces and Highways England officers around the country to make sure that they come into Kent in sufficiency to be able to man the pumps and make sure that the fluidity and the Operation Brock strategy, to keep the road network in Kent open at all times and direct them to where lorries if they are delays at the port, will be held until such time as they can depart from those ports.

Carter, who leads the Conservative-controlled council, said “accelerated progress” has been made since the Yellowhammer report – released on Wednesday night – was drafted on 2 August.

There are still two or three outstanding matters which I am beating the drum on which need resolving in short order.

Asked if he was worried about a no-deal Brexit, he said:

As long as we get satisfactory answers and progress on how the operating model for customs clearance is going to work and communicate that to the logistics haulage industry, I am pretty confident that we can avoid disruption in Kent.


From Sky’s Michelle Clifford

EU’s Chief Brexit Negotiator @MichelBarnier tells journalists EU still open to considering “concrete proposals” from UK. He has just gone in to brief leaders of political groups in European Parliament about #brexit

— Michelle Clifford (@skynewsmichelle) September 12, 2019

Lord Hope, a former supreme court judge who is now the convenor of cross-bench peers in the Lords, has rejected claims that MPs can now re-enter the House of Commons after yesterday’s Scottish court ruling that prorogation was illegal.

Hope, a former lord president of Scotland’s courts, said appeal judges in Edinburgh were right not to order Boris Johnson to reconvene parliament before the supreme court hears the Scottish case alongside the English and Northern Irish challenges next week.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland, Hope said:

[On] Tuesday morning at 1.30, parliament was prorogued and it was prorogued to a given date on the command of Her Majesty, and you can’t just go back in and start without that order being set aside. Quite how you do that is a matter of parliamentary procedure and I just don’t know quite what the answer is meantime.

Hope, who was deputy president of the supreme court until his retirement as a judge in 2013, said he expected a speedy decision by the nine judges hearing the supreme court case.

Three days are set aside but I rather doubt it will take three days. And I’m sure they will issue a judgement as soon as they possibly can, maybe for reasons given later because like everybody else, they understand the urgency of this. And it really would be a nonsense if they didn’t issue a decision until parliament resumes on 14 October. So they’ll certainly lean over backwards to get a decision out as soon as they possibly can.

It was “complete nonsense” and “baseless” for Downing Street sources and government ministers to suggest the Scottish judges were politically biased.

Judges are impartial and they’re under oath to decide matters according to the law, and political influence either way has nothing whatever to do with it, and of course it’s one of the risks that judges run when they get involved in cases of this kind is that people make that kind of accusation.


Rudd says Boris Johnson's confrontational approach to parliament a 'mistake'

Following her resignation from the cabinet at the weekend over Boris Johnson’s Brexit strategy, Amber Rudd is giving a speech tonight in which she will suggest proportional representation might produce a parliament better able to reflect what the public wants. She was on the Today programme this morning, and here are some other points she made.

  • Rudd claimed the Tories could face challenges from up to 20 candidates standing at the next election as independent Conservatives. She said there were 22 former Tories in the party who do not take the party whip (the 21 who had the whip removed last week after rebelling over Brexit, and Rudd herself, who resigned the whip at the weekend). She said she had been “struck by how effectively they [the 21] are organised as a group” and she said she hoped No 10 would agree to restore the whip to all of them. She would like to be able to retake the whip herself, she said, but it would depend on how others were treated. Asked what she would do at the election, she said:

I am a Conservative, and if it comes to a general election in the short term, although of course none of us know when that might be, if I’m not back with the Conservative whip then I’m likely to fight as an independent Conservative. And I’m looking at options at the moment …

I will not be fighting for another party. I hope to be fighting as a Conservative and, if not, with up to 20 people, as an independent Conservative, depending on whether the whip has been returned.

Rudd has already made it clear she will be looking for a new constituency because she will not stand again in Hastings and Rye, where she had a majority of just 346 over Labour at the previous election.

She did not explain why she thought up to 20 people might be standing as independent Conservatives. Of the 21 Tories who lost the whip, almost half have said they intend to stand down at the next election.

  • She said people still in cabinet should “speak out” if they are worried about what Boris Johnson is doing.
  • She said Johnson’s confrontational approach to parliament was “a mistake”. Theresa May considered proroguing parliament to help pass Brexit, but rejected the idea, May said. Asked about the current prorogation, she said:

I am surprised, and I think it is a very un-Conservative thing to be doing. I have sat in three cabinets under three different prime ministers, and this level of confrontation with parliament I have never seen before.

Under Theresa May we did briefly look at the idea of prorogation. It was dismissed because we knew it would be the wrong approach, the wrong way to treat a parliament full of representatives of their own communities.

And this level of confrontation, I think, is unwelcome. I think it is a mistake. I think, as politicians and Conservatives, we should be looking to find the compromise and using persuasion and intelligence to try and find that compromise.

Amber Rudd
Amber Rudd. Photograph: Peter Nicholls/Reuters


Ministers have taken 'considerable steps' to avert no-deal Brexit dangers in report, says Gove

Quite late last night, the government finally published the Operation Yellowhammer document about what might happen in the event of a no-deal Brexit. You can read the document here (pdf). And here is our overnight story.

This morning, as he left his home, Michael Gove, the minister in charge of no-deal Brexit planning, sought to play down the report’s conclusions. He claimed that over the past six weeks, the government had taken “considerable steps” to address the potential problems outlined in the document. He said:

The Yellowhammer documents are a worst-case scenario. They are produced so government can take plans and take steps in order to mitigate any of those consequences. And over the course of the last six weeks, this government has taken considerable steps in order to ensure that, if there is a no-deal scenario, we can leave in the safest and smoothest possible way.

But of course it is important to stress that we are fighting hard for a deal, the prime minister has been making diplomatic progress this week, and we are on our way to getting a better deal.

There will be a lot more on this as the day goes on. Here what’s coming up …

9am: John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, speaks at the launch of a report by Lord Skidelsky on how to achieve a four-day working week.

9am: Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, speaks at the Universities UK conference.

10am: The high court in Belfast rules on the legal challenge against prorogation brought in Northern Ireland.

4pm: McDonnell speaks at the publication of a report on a plan for a financial transactions tax.

At some point today, Boris Johnson is also due to take part in a visit to promote the announcement of a contract to build five new frigates.

As usual, I will be covering breaking political news as it happens, as well as bringing you the best reaction, comment and analysis from the web. I plan to publish a summary when I wrap up.

You can read all the latest Guardian politics articles here. Here is the Politico Europe roundup of this morning’s political news. And here is the PoliticsHome list of today’s top 10 must-reads.

If you want to follow me or contact me on Twitter, I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter.



Andrew Sparrow and Kevin Rawlinson

The GuardianTramp

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