Parliament and the Brexit endgame

Author: Brendan Donnelly


Even if it is unsuccessful, the petition by over a hundred MPs for an early return of Parliament from its summer recess is significant.

Boris Johnson and his advisers are clearly determined to reduce to the minimum the role of Parliament over the weeks leading up to 31st October, the date scheduled for Brexit.

A clear majority of MPs are determined to avoid the “no deal” Brexit on 31st October which Johnson is at least risking and perhaps even seeking. There is however considerable debate among this majority on tactics and strategy.

The preference of the Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, is for an early vote of No Confidence in the Johnson government, followed by a “caretaker” government, headed by himself.

This “caretaker” government would ask for an extension of the Article 50 negotiating period and hold a General Election in which Brexit would be a central issue.

Corbyn, however, is a highly divisive figure and unlikely to be able to assemble a majority for his own premiership.

Many MPs moreover would prefer any such new government to use its extension of the Article 50 negotiating period to hold a referendum, with remaining in the EU as an option for the voters.

An alternative approach is favoured by those thirty or forty Conservative MPs concerned by what they see as the recklessness of the new Prime Minister in threatening a “no deal” Brexit.

They do not wish to bring down the government but are looking rather at legal and Parliamentary procedures that they hope will force the government to seek anyway an Article 50 extension before 31st October and abandon any willingness to embrace a “no deal” Brexit.

Considerable doubts have been expressed as to the practicality or even feasibility of these tactics, particularly given the shortness of time available. British Parliamentary practice gives great latitude to the government of the day to postpone or frustrate attempts by the Opposition to impose unwelcome decisions on the government.

Johnson clearly hopes to profit from these divisions among his opponents.

Again and again over the past three years, the House of Commons has shown itself happy to reject proposals from government or Opposition but incapable of agreeing on any specific alternative to these proposals. 

If this continues to be the case over the coming months, Brexit will take place, probably with “no deal,” on 31st October by automatic operation of the extended Article 50 process.

Because it is under pressure from the Brexit Party, the Johnson government cannot compromise on its promise of Brexit on 31st October. It seems overwhelmingly likely therefore that if it remains in office on that date a “no deal” Brexit will then take place.

A new government to replace the Johnson administration before 31st October is the most reliable and obvious pre-emptive measure.

Whether Parliament will be able to agree on the setting up of that government and on its mission will be the agenda of the coming weeks. The signals are at best mixed.


Brendan Donnelly

About the Author

Brendan Donnelly

Brendan is Director of the Federal Trust, the research institute studying the interactions between regional, national, European and global levels of government.

He was elected as a Member of the European Parliament in Sussex South and Crawley at the European Parliament election, 1994 for the Conservative Party. He then left the party, continued as an independent for a period, and then co-founded and became deputy leader of the Pro-Euro Conservative Party at the 1999 European elections. He stood in the 2009 European elections under the Yes2Europe political label and in the 2014 European elections for the 4 Freedoms Party (UK EPP). He is former chair of the Federal Union.

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Brendan Donnelly

About the Author

Brendan Donnelly

Brendan is Director of the Federal Trust, the research institute studying the interactions between regional, national, European and global levels of government.

He was elected as a Member of the European Parliament in Sussex South and Crawley at the European Parliament election, 1994 for the Conservative Party. He then left the party, continued as an independent for a period, and then co-founded and became deputy leader of the Pro-Euro Conservative Party at the 1999 European elections. He stood in the 2009 European elections under the Yes2Europe political label and in the 2014 European elections for the 4 Freedoms Party (UK EPP). He is former chair of the Federal Union.

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