MPs have gained valuable time to constrain a defiant prime minister—but where should they concentrate efforts?by Steve Peers / October 1, 2019 / Leave a comment
We know, due to the so-called Benn Act passed last month, that a majority in parliament is opposed to leaving the EU without a deal on 31st October. But the government position is that it will not implement the central obligation of the Act—to request an extension of EU membership (if parliament has not agreed to a withdrawal agreement, or accepted a no-deal outcome) by 19th October.
However, thanks to last week’s Supreme Court judgment ruling that the government’s prorogation was unlawful, parliament is now back in session, with some unexpected time to take further measures to ensure that the government complies with its legal obligations. How might it use this time?
First of all, further political action might turn out to be unnecessary, since there is a pending legal case aiming to ensure that the new law is enforced. But it would be unwise to assume that this case will be successful (it might be judged premature, for instance). Further political measures might be useful. In any event, there’s a possibility that the law might face its own legal challenge. If that challenge were successful, parliament would have to rethink its strategy completely.
Parliament could pass a no-confidence vote in the government, and aim to form a replacement that would comply with the obligation to send the extension request. The problem with this option is first of all political: it’s not clear that the government’s opponents in parliament can agree on who the prime minister should be in this scenario. It’s also not clear if they agree on an agenda: should the new government simply send and agree an extension request, then call for an election? Or should it have a bigger agenda, including holding another referendum and/or electoral reform?
There’s a legal issue with this option too: the prime minister might refuse to resign, interpreting the Fixed-term Parliaments Act to mean that’s there no obligation to do so even if there’s enough support for an alternative PM, simply “timing out” the Act until an election is called two weeks later. This interpretation of the constitution is highly contested, and it’s possible that the Queen would intervene to fire the PM, or indicate her displeasure strongly enough to lead to his monarchical constructive dismissal.
But such regal intervention isn’t certain either: as…