EXPLAINED: How exactly do Yvette Cooper and Oliver Letwin hope to block a no-deal Brexit?

Posted On: 
2nd April 2019

A cross-party group of MPs have taken seizing parliamentary control from the Government to a whole new level.

Home Affairs Committee chair Yvette Cooper
Credit: 
PA Images

Labour MP Yvette Cooper has tabled a bill - backed by Tory Sir Oliver Letwin, Brexit Select Committee chair Hilary Benn and others - aimed at blocking a no-deal Brexit in ten days’ time.

The UK is currently on course to leave the EU without a deal on 12 April after MPs chose to reject Theresa May’s Brexit deal a third time. If passed, the Cooper-Letwin bill would force Theresa May to extend the Article 50 Brexit process beyond that date - thereby heading off the chance of quitting the bloc with no withdrawal agreement in place.

HOW DOES IT PROPOSE TO WORK?

The Bill is split into three key sections:

  1. The Prime Minister would be required - the day after the bill is passed - to bring a motion to the Commons seeking an extension of Article 50 of any length she chooses.
  2. MPs will be free to change the date - binding the Government to a delay of its choosing.
  3. If the EU responds with a different delay period, the Prime Minister must immediately bring a fresh motion to the Commons with a new period of her choosing.

WHAT DOES THE BILL SAY?

COULD IT ACTUALLY WORK?

The constitutional experts think the proposed bill might not be a runner. The central criticism is one of timing. Theresa May has until an emergency European Council summit on 10 April to bring forward the Government's strategy. That will be the moment at which the PM has to lay out whether she wants a longer delay, how long that delay will be and how she hopes to use it.

Constitutional experts like Nikki da Costa, the former Downing Street head of legislative affairs, say there will not be enough time before to complete the bill's passage through Parliament before 10 April.

Lawyer Jo Maugham QC pointed out other potential pitfalls, such as a lack of detail over how long the PM would have to demand an extension, and what the country does if the EU imposes conditions on an extension.

Parliamentary researcher Christopher James tweeted: “Even if it did pass it's like trying to stop a car from the passenger seat. You can try, but the driver controls the steering wheel, the accelerator and the brake. This Bill would be like trying to pull the handbrake only to discover it's just a prop & that's disconnected too.”

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

After concerns about the timings were raised the MPs changed their plan to rush everything through tomorrow. Originally the stages of the bill were set to be debated on Thursday. Now the second reading will be done by 19.00 tomorrow, and the third reading by 22.00. MPs will debate the timetable before all that tomorrow, which will be a decisive moment for the bid. Another major issue for the bill is that it will have to pass the Lords before it comes into force. The Commons cannot tell the Lords what to do, and peers may well frustrate the attempt to strong-arm the legislative process. 

As Letwin said when the bill was first revealed: "This is a last-ditch attempt to prevent our country being exposed to the risks inherent in a no deal exit. We realise this is difficult. But it is definitely worth trying."