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by Jack Sansum 20th August, 2019
2 min read

Can MPs stop a no-deal Brexit?

“There will be opportunities for us when parliament returns in September to stop no-deal”. The words of Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth echo what many MPs have publicly stated as they seek to advert a no-deal Brexit.

Is this true? Well, that is far from certain.

It is true that Parliament has plenty of options to break the resistance of a Prime Minister committed to a no-deal Brexit, including revoking Article 50, declaring no confidence in the sitting Prime Minister, declaring confidence in another to seek an extension until a majority for a negotiation exit can be found. However, the problem remains that it is not clear that any of these options can command a majority in the House of Commons.

No confidence?

A no-confidence vote has been seen as the best means of stopping no-deal.

Indeed, when parliament returns from its summer recess on September 3, pro-remain MPs are almost certain to attempt a no-confidence vote. Even if it were to lead to a general election, would Johnson be under an obligation to seek an extension of article 50? Again this is unclear, with Johnson’s key adviser Dominic Cummings reportedly telling colleagues that Johnson would refuse to request such an extension.

General election?

Cummings has claimed that even if MPs were to pass a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minster in the autumn, the electoral timetable means any general election would not take place in time to stop the UK from leaving the EU on 31 October.

This view is based on analysis from the House of Commons library, which states that due to the timetable for an election following a vote of no confidence under the Fixed-terms Parliament Act (FTPA), the vote would have to be on the 3 September. For the debate to have taken place on the first day back after recess, Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Leader would have had to have tabled a motion before recess. But that did not happen.

Government of national unity?

The one scenario that would stop no deal would be if a no-confidence vote were to lead not to a general election, but to the formation of a new government that could win a vote of confidence within the 14-day period allowed under the FTPA. One barrier to that may have been removed, with Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell stating that Labour would be willing to “enable the replacement of this government” to prevent no deal.

The structural problem remains that there is no evidence of a majority in parliament for a government led by the leader of the Opposition, or the leader of the Liberal Democrats – both of whom would need to support the idea for it to have any hope of succeeding – and there is no evidence of parties being willing to unite in this way.

No-deal

With “Exit Day” fast approaching, it legally remains the case that Britain will leave the EU without a deal on October 31.

There is little chance of the Prime Minister – who stood on a leadership platform of leaving the “come what may, do or die” by October 31 – halting or delaying Brexit further.

Whilst is it not true to say that Parliament has run out of options to stop no deal, it is true to say there is currently no evidence of an option that can command a majority in the House – and this may remain the case as the Government continues to do everything in their power to ensure Brexit is delivered by October 31.

See more articles by Jack Sansum