MPs can stop no deal. Bercow is right – UK

Some commentators claim that if Theresa May’s successor wants to force a no deal Brexit, MPs can’t stop them.  John Bercow, the Speaker, has now dismissed that saying it would be “unimaginable” for Parliament to be sidelined.  He’s right; MPs can stop a no-deal Brexit.

Last week Tory leadership favourite Boris Johnson declared that the UK would leave on October 31, deal or no deal. The highly regarded Institute for Government said that a new prime minister intent on leaving without a deal could not be stopped.

It is important to understand that the overwhelming majority of MPs are opposed to a no-deal Brexit. If they remain opposed it will be hard for any government to ignore them.

There are several routes available to MPs.

They can pass a motion objecting to no deal, as they did in March. Although that wouldn’t be legally binding, it would carry moral force.

More powerfully, they could pass or amend legislation to force the prime minister to ask for extra time as they did last month. To do this, they had to get control of parliamentary business by amending a government business motion. They could do this again but only if a relevant business motion was tabled.  Or they could use time granted to the opposition parties for debate provided ministers don’t block such debates.

If these approaches failed, MPs could seek an emergency debate under Standing Order 24.  Such a motion is usually in neutral language and not binding. But would the Speaker allow a motion which placed a specific duty on ministers, for example to table legislation or a motion on no deal? Is that what Bercow meant when he said in March that the “opportunities [with SO24] are fuller than has traditionally been acknowledged or taken advantage of by [MPs]”?

The nuclear option for Tory MPs would be to support a no confidence motion in the government. The Chancellor of the Exchequer drew attention to that in an interview on Sunday, implying that he might vote against a Tory government headed by a no-deal supporter.  If such a motion passed there would be 14 days to see if anybody could secure a vote of confidence. If that failed, a general election would follow.

Short of that, MPs could disrupt the business of the House, including refusing to vote for any “supply Bills”. That  would cause the government to run out of money at some point. Although this would provoke chaos, it is not clear that ministers would need to get Commons approval for a new supply Bill before October 31.

One of the problems for a no-deal prime minister is the EU has hinted that, if the UK went for no deal, it would offer a three-month “technical extension” to alleviate the worst effects.  It would be difficult for a prime minister to decline that given business would want it. What would the markets do to sterling during this period?

There is also the possibility of court challenges. As May found out over triggering Article 50, ignoring due process can cause judges to intervene.

Forcing through a no-deal Brexit would be messy, controversial, and would require ministers to disengage from Parliament, perhaps by stopping it from sitting for a period (prorogation). Such an approach goes against our constitutional practice, would be undemocratic and would break the Conservative Party.

If 400 MPs want to stop a no deal Brexit, as they said they did in March, they can.(source infacts.org)

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