Boris Johnson has refused to rule out declaring an emergency to force through no-deal Brexit.
The Prime Minister failed to deny ministers could use civil contingency powers to suspend the Benn Act. “I’m not going to get into a hypothetical situation,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr.
MPs passed the Benn Act this month which forces the Prime Minister to ask for a three-month delay to the Brexit date – if there’s no agreement by October 19, straight after an EU summit.
MPs increasingly believe Downing Street is considering using the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, which grants special powers in the event of a national emergency, as a way to override the Benn act.
It gives the government powers to create emergency regulations at times of national crisis and threats to safety (including wartime), emergencies that threaten “serious damage to human welfare”, or to the environment or the security of the UK.
Damage to human welfare is defined in the act to include disruption to transport networks or to the supply of food, money, energy, or health services.
Pressed whether there would be civil unrest if Brexit was delayed again, Mr Johnson did not rule it out.
But threats of civil unrest prompted fury among Opposition MPs.
Labour ’s Keir Starmer said: “Whipping up the idea of riots or even death threats is the height of irresponsibility.
“But it is also pretty obviously being orchestrated. If this is part of Johnson’s plan to misuse powers under emergency legislation, we will defeat him in court and in Parliament.”
Former Tory MP and attorney general Dominic Grieve said he could see no other possible way telling the Observer: “The Civil Contingencies Act is the only possible route I can imagine they can be thinking of.
“But if they do try to do this it would be a constitutional outrage. And if it passed through parliament it would be immediately challenged in the courts.”
The Prime Minister insisted that “of course we can” leave the EU without a deal on October 31 – despite the Benn Act.
He refused to set out how he would do that but did not rule out asking another EU leader to veto a request for a delay.
“I’m not going to get into my discussions with any other EU head of state about the negotiations, because they are extremely interesting but they are also delicate,” he told the BBC.
But he added: “It is certainly true that other EU countries also don’t want this thing to keep dragging on.
“They don’t want the UK to remain in the EU, truculent and mutinous and in a limbo, and not wishing to co-operate in the way that they would like.
“They want a good deal and there’s the opportunity now to get a good deal. What I would like is for the Government to be able to get on and do that deal, and we are working very hard.
“I’m not going to pretend to you that it’s going to be easy.”
Mr Johnson claimed that the Benn Act had hampered chances of reaching a Brexit deal because it was designed to get rid of the threat of no deal.
“Obviously, the chances of deal or no deal depend very much on the common sense of our friends and partners,” he told the BBC.
“It has not been helped by the Surrender Act, our chances of getting a deal, I’ll be very clear with you.”
He said that in Brussels “if they think there is a realistic chance that the UK can be kept in”, that “takes away a lot of our negotiating freedom of manoeuvre “.
Mr Johnson dismissed the suggestion he could resign in order to avoid asking for a Brexit delay.
“I have undertaken to lead the party and my country at a difficult time, and I’m going to continue to do that.
“I believe it’s my responsibility to do that and I think that it’s our job to get Brexit done on October 31 and to move the country on.”