Michael Gove has repeatedly refused to rule out the possibility that the government could ignore any law passed by parliament to stop a no-deal Brexit and insisted there would be no food shortages if the UK did crash out of the EU on 31 October.
The comments by Gove drew condemnation from both Labour, the SNP and Conservative rebels, including one Tory MP who said it showed democracy was under threat.
Gove, who is in charge of planning for no deal, did not commit to abide by any law which rebel MPs will attempt to pass this week that could mandate an extension to article 50 in the event of no deal.
“Let’s see what the legislation says,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show. “You’re asking me about a pig in a poke. And I will wait to see what legislation the opposition may try to bring forward.”
Asked again whether it would be extraordinary for a government not to abide by the law, Gove said: “We will see what the legislation says when it is brought forward. For me the point is that we already have legislation in place which an overwhelming majority of MPs voted for [article 50].”
The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, said Gove’s hints that the government may ignore legislation was a major escalation. “The Tory attack on our democracy is getting worse. Gove has just refused to confirm.. that the government will accept legislation passed by Parliament,” he tweeted.
“This is a startling move beyond anything we’ve ever seen. Johnson government is becoming an elective dictatorship.”
The Conservative MP Guto Bebb, a supporter of the People’s Vote campaign for a second referendum, said: “This government’s unprecedented willingness to flout the rules is a disgrace to our democracy.
“Not only are they suspending parliament to try and force through a disastrous no deal, but now they are suggesting that, even if parliament passed a law requiring the government to avoid no deal, they might simply ignore it. Our very democracy is now under threat from Boris Johnson and his government.”
Bebb said Gove had admitted no deal was not what he had campaigned for in the 2016 referendum. “Now he’s willing to tear up our democratic system to force this outcome on the country, against the wishes of both parliament and the public,” he said.
“The Brexiters in government like to cloak themselves in the language of democracy, but they willingly ignore basic democratic principles as and when it suits them.”
Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was a “dangerous time for democracy” when ministers could not answer yes or no to whether they would abide by the law. “Not so much prorogue as just plain rogue,” she tweeted. “We mustn’t allow this behaviour to be normalised.”
Gove said there would be no shortages of fresh food in the event of no deal but said food prices could potentially rise. “Everyone will have the food they need,” he said.
When asked if prices would increase, Gove said: “I think that there are a number of economic factors in play. Some prices may go up. Other prices will come down.”
Gove, who is chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, officially launched the Cabinet Office’s £100m Get Ready for Brexit campaign on Sunday. It will include television, radio and billboard advertising, billed as the government’s biggest ever public information campaign.
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