Sat, 2 July 2022

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EXPLAINED: How MPs 'last chance' bid to block no-deal Brexit could play out

EXPLAINED: How MPs 'last chance' bid to block no-deal Brexit could play out
5 min read

MPs determined to stop a no-deal Brexit are facing a crunch week in parliament....but how could it all unfold?

After Boris Johnson's successful bid to suspend Parliament, opposition MPs are gearing up for a final battle to try and pass new legislation to thwart no-deal. But with Tory MPs being threatened with deselection if they back the plans, what options are open to the group?

Fresh legislation

On Tuesday, anti-Brexit MPs are set to launch their bid to seize control of the Commons timetable in order to bring forward new legislation to extend the Article 50 process beyond the October 31 deadline.

Their plan will follow similar steps to those taken in April, where senior MPs Yvette Cooper and Oliver Letwin applied to Speaker John Bercow for an emergency debate under the Commons "standing order 24".

Crucially, like the Cooper-Letwin bid which resulted in Theresa May being forced to seek a Brexit extension, the rebel MPs would also need the Speaker to break convention once again and allow the SO24 motion to be amendable.

But Mr Bercow, who has reacted with fury to the suspension of Parliament, is likely to accept the request, giving MPs the chance to table a new business motion, which, if passed, would give the group control of the Commons agenda, allowing them to table new anti-no deal legislation.

Key opposition figures, including Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and senior Tory rebel David Guake, have so far refused to detail what exactly will be put forward by the group, but it is widely expected the new bill would force Boris Johnson to return to the EU to request a significant extension to Article 50.

So what could go wrong?

Boris Johnson's decision to prorogue Parliament early has curtailed the time MPs have available to push through legislation and it is likely the Commons agenda on Wednesday and Thursday could be devoted to rushing through the remaining stages of any opposition bill.

But the plans could hit a roadblock when they pass to the House of Lords, where Brexiteer peers are reportedly plotting to filibuster the debate and table wrecking amendments aimed at running down the clock on the process before Parliament is suspended.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson has said he would treat any SO24 vote as a de-facto confidence motion in his government, vowing to remove the whip from any rebel Tory backbenchers while also blocking them from standing as a Conservative MP in any future election. 

But the threat has done little to dampen spirits among the rebel camp, with Eddisbury MP Antoinette Sandbach saying she was prepared to put her job on the line to vote Mr Johnson, while former cabinet minister David Gauke said he was willing to lose the whip in order to stop a no-deal exit.

And Boris Johnson could also use a defeat on the SO24 debate to lay the groundwork for a new "People vs Parliament" election.

Dissolving parliament requires the support of 66% of MPs and would kill the anti-Brexit bill before it passes into law, but with a divided Tory party and the looming risk of no-deal, it would be hard for Jeremy Corbyn to turn down the opportunity.

There has also been the suggestion that the government could just ignore the legislation and refuse to grant the bill Royal Assent.

Cabinet minister Michael Gove has already said ministers would "wait and see" what the bill might include before deciding how to proceed.

But any government refusing to implement legislation passed by Parliament would be thrown into a major constitutional row from which it would struggle to recover.

Vote of no confidence

If anti-no deal MPs can't get their legislation passed, they will likely fall back on Jeremy Corbyn's original plan to call a vote of no confidence in the Government.

If successful, the Labour leader would have 14 days to try and form an alternative government which could command support in the Commons.

Prior to the decision to prorogue parliament, Mr Corbyn had struggled to find support from opposition leaders for his plan to lead a caretaker government which would extend Article 50 before triggering a new general election.

But with their legislative approach facing considerable time pressure, some MPs now see a vote of no confidence as an inevitable next step.

However, several Tory rebels have already indicated they would still not be willing to facilitate any plan which would see Jeremy Corbyn installed in Downing Street.

And the Liberal Democrats have said they view any bid to depose Mr Johnson and install any caretaker government as "pointless" unless Labour can prove they have the numbers to win.

If the 14-day period passes and no new government can be formed then a new election date would be set. 

However, an analysis from the House of Commons library suggests that time is short for an election to be held ahead of the Hallowe'en exit date.

According to their calculations, voters would go to the polls to select their new government just one week before the October 31st deadline, leaving little time for a new government to come up with a coherent Brexit plan.

Court cases

Away from Westminster, Boris Johnson's decision to suspend Parliament is facing a raft of legal challenges backed by MPs.

On Thursday, the High Court in London will consider a bid by anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller to have Mr Johnson's decision subjected to a judicial review. 

Other litigants in the case, including former Prime Minister John Major and Labour's Deputy leader Tom Watson, hope the court could force Mr Johnson to reverse his decision to suspend Parliament, giving MPs more time to push their new Brexit legislation through Parliament.

Meanwhile, a cross-party group of over 70 MPs have launched a seperate bid in the Court of Sessions in Edinburgh in a bid to have the decision deemed "both unlawful and unconstitutional".

Further similar bids in Wales and Northern Ireland are also set to be heard.

But while a succesful court decision would give a boost for anti-Brexit MPs, it would provide Boris Johnson with more ammunition for a future general election where he could pitch the votes of "the 17.4 million" against a group of MPs who will stop at nothing to frustrate the referendum result.


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