There are ways for parliament to halt the PM but they are fast disappearingby Colin Talbot / August 1, 2019 / Leave a comment
Boris Johnson and his government have been sending out mixed messages about the possibility of a no-deal Brexit on 31st October. On the one hand they claim that there is only a “million to one” chance of no deal happening, while on the other they are preparing to spend increasingly large sums preparing for it. A lot of individuals and businesses are apparently assuming that parliament will block a crash out. The question is, can MPs really stop a prime minister determined to push that outcome through?
There are several formidable obstacles for parliament to overcome. The countdown of the Article 50 timer, and the main pieces of Brexit legislation—the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017 and the EU Withdrawal Act 2018—mean that if nothing else happens, the UK leaves the EU on 31st October. To change this, either a prime minister voluntarily asks for a further extension of Article 50 (which requires the agreement of the EU), or revokes the Article 50 letter (which the UK can do unilaterally at any time before we leave). Alternatively, parliament compels him to take one of these actions.
The timetable between now and 31st October is extremely tight. Parliament resumes for just over a week at the start of September and then goes into a three-and-a-half week recess for the party conferences. So there are only about four working weeks before Brexit Day in which to do anything.
So what are the options? Of course it is always theoretically possible for the government to strike a deal with Europe and implement it before 31st October, but no serious commentator truly believes that is realistic in the time available. Or that MPs would necessarily endorse such a deal.
A more plausible option could be to amend government legislation, to nullify or suspend the effects of the 2017 and 2018 Acts and compel Johnson to seek an extension. But there are problems with this. There are in theory five Brexit-related Bills covering trade, agriculture, fisheries, immigration and social security, and financial services remaining to be passed. Another Bill, to re-introduce direct rule to Northern Ireland in the event of no deal, would also be necessary unless the NI executive is restored.
Yet the government seems to think that it doesn’t need to pass any further Brexit-specific legislation before 31st October. The influential Institute for Government (IfG) seemed to endorse this possibility in its recent report.…