KEN Clarke or Harriet Harman have been suggested as a potential leader of an “emergency government” to stop a no-deal Brexit as Jeremy Corbyn’s offer to lead a temporary caretaker administration was roundly rejected by the Liberal Democrats.
Jo Swinson, the Lib Dem leader, offered up the names of Mr Clarke and Ms Harman – the longest serving male and female MPs – as people who could command cross-party support at the head of a unity government.
The East Dunbartonshire MP dismissed Mr Corbyn’s plan as “a nonsense,” arguing he would not be able to attract the necessary rebel Tories to his cause and there were doubts even all Labour MPs would support it.
But among Remainer Tory MPs, whom the Labour leader wrote to to outline his plan, Nick Boles, Dominic Grieve and Oliver Letwin have agreed to meet him to plan a way forward.
However, Alistair Burt, the former minister who quit the UK Government over Brexit, made clear he would not support Mr Corbyn as a caretaker Prime Minster, noting: “I can’t see anything where a caretaker government led by Jeremy Corbyn is the answer.”
Ms Swinson’s recommendation that the so-called Father or Mother of the House of Commons lead an emergency government came as she welcomed former Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston to her party, bringing the total number of its MPs to 14.
In her first major speech as party leader, the Scot said the Commons needed to win a vote of no-confidence against Boris Johnson and within 14 days install a new PM, who had “the confidence of the House and will stop a no-deal Brexit”.
Referencing Mr Corbyn’s proposal, she said: “He is demanding the keys to No 10 as a precondition for a vote of no-confidence. We are facing a national crisis. We may need an emergency government to resolve it. But if Jeremy Corbyn truly wants that to succeed surely even he can see that he cannot lead it.
“There is no way he can unite rebel Conservatives and Independents to stop Boris Johnson. It is not even certain that he would secure all the votes of Labour MPs.”
The Lib Dem leader went on: “This isn’t about personalities; this is about having a plan that actually works. What we need in a leader of an emergency government is a long-serving Member of Parliament who is respected on both sides of the House.
“Someone like Ken Clarke or Harriet Harman – the Father and Mother of the House – they are hugely experienced and, unlike Jeremy Corbyn, or indeed myself, they are not seeking to lead a government in the long term.”
When asked if she had spoken to Mr Clarke or Ms Harman about her suggestion to lead the government, Ms Swinson said she was confident that they would be happy to take on the role.
“I have been in contact and I certainly think that those are both politicians who not only have that long experience across the House and have served the country well in the past and put public duty at the heart of what they’ve done but they are still individuals who are very much motivated by public duty and what is right for the country.
“And I’m confident that if that’s what the House of Commons resolves that those individuals will be happy to take on that role to try to steer our country through these difficult waters.”
The Lib Dem leader insisted she was ready to “work with anyone” to stop Mr Johnson and his “hardline Brexit Government”.
“Despite saying that no-deal was a million-to-one chance, that is clearly the destination that Boris Johnson is headed towards. He was prepared to say anything in his selfish quest to become Prime Minister at all costs.”
She accused the Tory leader of “playing with fire” and “playing at being Prime Minister” over his Brexit stance.
“Just what will he say to the father who has just lost his job because of no-deal Brexit? Telling him to cheer up in Latin just won’t wash. Boris Johnson: stop playing with our country’s future,” declared Ms Swinson.
She arrived at the speech with Ms Wollaston, and Chuka Umunna, who also recently switched to join the pro-Remain party.
The party leader praised Dr Wollaston, who represents Totnes in Devon, as a “formidable” MP and said: “I am so glad to have her by my side in our fight to stop Brexit.”
Earlier, Rebecca Long-Bailey, the Shadow Business Secretary, said she was saddened by Ms Swinson’s rejection of Mr Corbyn’s offer of collaboration under his leadership.
“We have to work together, even if we don’t like what each other says a lot of the time, but we have to stop no-deal. It’s as simple as that, because we know the damage that could be caused is unfathomable,” declared the Salford MP.
Asked when Labour would call a no-confidence vote, Ms Long-Bailey said: “Certainly, we’ll back it in early September. Obviously, we won’t dictate which particular day that will happen on, but as soon as possible.”
She added that she “suspected” it would be called “within days” but declined to give a specific day.
Her colleague Ian Lavery, the Labour Party Chairman, was less generous in his response to Ms Swinson’s rejection of the Corbyn plan.
He tweeted: “Why would anyone be surprised at the @LibDems refusing to meet @jeremycorbyn to avoid a NO DEAL BREXIT? All other parties are willing. They were so so so cosy being in bed with the Tories dishing out right wing policies damaging our people & communities.”
But Mr Umunna came to his leader’s defence. He took to social media to say: “We accept our @LibDems ldr may not lead an emergency govt to stop a ‘no deal’ Brexit so have suggested two senior MPs from other parties – Labour’s @HarrietHarman or the Tories’ Ken Clarke – to lead it. Jeremy Corbyn knows he can’t command a majority in the House – but they could.
“If we are wrong on our analysis about Corbyn’s capacity to attract Tory rebels, Labour people carping about all of this need to name at least one Tory rebel who has categorically said they will vote for a temporary Corbyn premiership. The truth is there are none.”
The London MP left the Labour Party earlier this year in protest against Jeremy Corbyn’s approach to Brexit and anti-Semitism.