17 December 2018

As the Government steps up its no deal preparations, Maddy Thimont Jack explains how Parliament might prevent the UK leaving the EU without a deal.

After the Prime Minister pulled the meaningful vote, some MPs are worried that Government may choose to run down the clock and force them either to accept the PM’s deal or face a disorderly Brexit.   

If MPs wanted to prevent a no deal exit, or direct what the Government does next, there are five ways they could make their views known.

1. Amend a motion tabled under the EU Withdrawal Act 

If there is a vote (either the Government bringing back the motion to approve its deal or the one required under the EU Withdrawal Act to be tabled by 21 January if there is “no deal”), MPs can seek to amend it. The Government has said it will schedule a vote (even through it is not clear that it must) and that the motion will be amendable. However, amendments to a motion are not legally binding.  

2. Use Opposition or Backbench time to express a political opinion

If the Government decided against scheduling another vote, MPs could use other time available to them to indicate their opposition to no deal. This could be an Opposition Day debate or Backbench Business Committee debate. But the Government controls the timing for these and may simply avoid scheduling them, leaving MPs to rely on Urgent Questions and Emergency Debates.

3. Amend or block Brexit legislation

The Government still has nine Brexit bills to pass of which at least three are needed to manage “no deal”. The most obvious candidate for amendment is the Trade Bill – which has not returned to the Lords since its Second Reading in September. MPs have already tried and failed to amend the bill to set government negotiating objectives for the future relationship. Now it would be down to the Lords to table amendments.

MPs could also vote against, or slow down approval of, some of the roughly 700 Statutory Instruments which need to be passed to correct the UK statute book for a no deal scenario. Parliament could pressure the Government by rejecting critical Statutory instruments or forcing statutory instruments tabled under the “affirmative” scrutiny procedure be debated on the floor of the House instead of in a public bill committee. But this would be a protest move without an opportunity to ‘direct’ the Government and risks derailing no deal planning without setting out an alternative approach.

4. Hold up the Finance Bill or the Estimates

Another pressure tactic would be to target the Finance Bill, which puts the Budget into law. If MPs really wanted to put pressure on the Government, they could vote against the bill at third reading – which would prevent the Government from levying income and corporation tax next year. MPs could also target ‘supplementary estimates’ which are introduced by the Government to amend departmental spending, typically in February.

5. ‘No confidence’ vote in the Government

A final resort for Conservative MPs would be to vote with Opposition MPs on a motion tabled under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act that they don’t have confidence in the Government (not the much weaker censure motion of the sort Jeremy Corbyn has threatened). They could decide to vote against the Government at the first vote to put pressure on the Government to change its approach, and then support them at the confidence vote at the end of fourteen days provided they have done so.

But the effectiveness of this tactic would depend on whether the Government believed it needed to change course to win the second vote – and even a General Election might still not resolve the question of how to move forward on Brexit.

Under the Article 50 process the UK is set to leave the EU on 29 March 2019 with or without a deal. The fewer legitimate opportunities the Government gives Parliament to express its view on the way forward on Brexit, the bigger the risk it will have to resort to guerrilla tactics which threaten either no deal planning or financial stability. Government could avoid those risks by allowing Parliament its say.

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Comments

Or a brave MP who genuinely has the interests of the UK uppermost could introduce a Private Member's Bill to repeal all those acts which say we must leave the EU on a particular date and instruct the government to revoke the Article 50 notification. They would need to make the arguments that:
1) Parliament, having taken due regard of the people's advice by referendum, has found it impossible to deliver a deal which both protects the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement and maintains the integrity of the UK.
2) There is no deal available between the UK and the EU which is as beneficial to the UK as the one we have as EU members.
3) Under the UK longstanding constitutional arrangements, referenda are not considered binding and given the closeness of the vote on this occasion Parliament has a duty to make a decision in the best interests of the UK and explain to the people why it is not taking the most popular advice.

The UK is, after all, a parliamentary democracy in which representatives are delegated to make decisions which protect the rights of minorities, not just the most popular views.

Funny how even after 2 years remainders still think this is an this is purely an economic argument.

At present the UK has very limited freedom to accept or not most things decided on by the EU elite.

When we had a referendum to join EU we were not informed about "free movement", majority voting, ever closer union, etc.

The present situation has not been beneficial to the people at the bottom who face incomers undercutting them and competing for housing, etc.

Who decides what is best for us. We have decided that we want to leave - we may be worse off initially, we accept that.

I think you're missing the point entirely. Parliament voted for a referendum. Parliament voted for Article 50. In last year's general election the vast majority of MPs were elected on leave the single market and customs union in their manifestos. And earlier this year, parliament voted to turn the EU withdrawal bill into law.

At no point in this whole exercise was any deal on the table. Are we expected to believe MPs now realise they made mistakes in the entire process? They had the choices you suggested in front of them the whole time yet continued on this path.

Parliament as a whole committed to leaving the EU on 29 March 2019. The rest is just procedural to ensure the leaving process for which they've already voted for, to run as smoothly as possible.

It seems to me that the only way to "prevent the UK leaving the EU without a deal" - other than signing a deal - is to withdraw the Article 50 notice, which presumably needs an Act of Parliament, as we needed an Act of Parliament to serve the notice in the first place. Nothing else will prevent the arrival of 29 March 2019, at which point we are out without a deal, whether or not that is what Parliament wants. None of the suggestions in the article - such as holding up the Finance Bill - prevent our departure on 29 March 2019.

So what if Parliament holds up important legislation? There's nothing which can't wait until the start of April. It's difficult to see how "Guerrilla tactics" could stop or delay Brexit - there just isn't sufficient time for such tactics to bite now that the PM says she will hold a vote on the treaty in the 3rd week of January and, by operation of EU and UK law, the UK will leave the EU at end March. If the treaty is rejected then the PM must return to Parliament within 14 days with her proposals - which will be debated and voted on which takes us up to mid February. If, as many expect, the PM puts the Withdrawal Treaty back to Parliament in February then another week will be lost taking us up to end February/first week in March. At which point the PM will either get her majority or we'll be set for withdrawal 4 weeks later without an agreement. Parliament will step into line once we're out - there's would be no point in doing otherwise.

So what if Parliament holds up important legislation? There's nothing which can't wait until the start of April. It's difficult to see how "Guerrilla tactics" could stop or delay Brexit - there just isn't sufficient time for such tactics to bite now that the PM says she will hold a vote on the treaty in the 3rd week of January and, by operation of EU and UK law, the UK will leave the EU at end March. If the treaty is rejected then the PM must return to Parliament within 14 days with her proposals - which will be debated and voted on which takes us up to mid February. If, as many expect, the PM puts the Withdrawal Treaty back to Parliament in February then another week will be lost taking us up to end February/first week in March. At which point the PM will either get her majority or we'll be set for withdrawal 4 weeks later without an agreement. Parliament will step into line once we're out - there's would be no point in doing otherwise.