Parliament could not stop new PM intent on no-deal Brexit, warns IfG

Analysis comes as cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom resigns over Theresa May’s revised EU exit plan

Photo: PA/UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

By Richard Johnstone

23 May 2019

Theresa May’s successor as prime minister could not be stopped by MPs from leaving the EU without a deal if they are determined to implement to the policy, according to an analysis by the Institute for Government.

In a blog published on the day the prime minister faced a fresh cabinet revolt over her EU exit plan, leading to last night's the resignation of the leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom, IfG researcher Maddy Thimont Jack said MPs no longer have a decisive route to prevent a no-deal Brexit.

In April, MPs passed a bill requiring the government to seek an extension form the EU to avoid a no-deal exit beyond 12 April, the date the UK had been due to exit following an extension from the original 29 March deadline. A subsequent extension has been agreed until 31 October. But Thimont Jack said that there is no decisive route to blocking on deal if May’s successor is determined to pursue it.


Following yesterday’s cabinet rebellion, it is expected that May will set out details of when she will leave Downing Street tomorrow and some likely candidates in the the Conservative leadership campaign have set out support for a no-deal exit.

Thimont Jack said that MPs can’t use the same tactics as last time to avert a no-deal exit.

“Parliament’s most successful attempt to avoid no deal earlier this year was the ‘Cooper Bill’s’ requirement for the government to seek a one-off extension to avoid no deal on 12 April,” she said.

“The route to this stemmed from a clause which MPs inserted into the EU Withdrawal Act 2018 – the legislation needed to repeal the 1972 European Communities Act and correct deficiencies in domestic law after Brexit.

“The clause required the prime minister to seek parliamentary approval for her Brexit deal before it could be ratified. But if parliament rejected the deal then MPs would be able to vote on a motion ‘considering’ the prime minister's next steps. Crucially, before Christmas, MPs won the right to amend that motion – giving the Commons a chance to shape both the timetable and the content of the next steps. Through this process the Commons was able to take control briefly of the parliamentary timetable and pass the bill.

“But if a new prime minister is set on no deal, then they have no need for further 'meaningful votes’. That denies MPs an opportunity to vote to take control of the timetable again. And the no deal provision in the EU Withdrawal Act 2018 – which would have required the government to hold a vote in the Commons if no agreement had been reached with the EU by 21 January – has long expired.”

Other measures such as passing backbench motions opposing no deal or voting against the government’s programme would either not have legal teeth or not halt the drive, she added.

A vote of ‘no confidence’ in the government by MPs would trigger a 14-day period where someone else – including Jeremy Corbyn – could try and form a government which wins the support of the Commons. If that cannot be achieved, then the UK would face a general election, but there would need to be a new prime minister in place who is prepared to go to the EU to ask for a further extension before the 31 October deadline is reached, Thimont Jack concluded.

Following the agreement of the Brexit extension to the end of October, the government has stood down Operation Yellowhammer, its contingency planning operation for dealing with a n- deal exit.

However in an email to civil servants cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill said it was “important to say that our planning for exiting the EU continues”.


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