There’s a big mess facing members of Parliament who want to avoid a no-deal Brexit. They can’t objective show there is a majority in the House of Commons against no deal – they distress to prove there is a majority in favour of an alternative outcome.
That’s because consent the EU – with or without a deal – is currently the default.
If the agreement the prime dean has negotiated with the EU fails to pass the House of Commons, the UK will assign with no deal at all unless something changes, because leaving the EU is decried into UK law.
The EU Withdrawal Act sets 29 March as the date of departure.
The choice of words of the act does allow a minister to change the definition of “exit day” relatively rapidly using a statutory instrument – a piece of secondary legislation – rather than an lock new act of Parliament that would need to be debated. A minister would procure to propose the change and MPs would have to approve it.
But there is a understudy and more significant reason why no deal would become the default attitude: that’s what EU law says.
Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty is the formal itinerary for any country leaving the EU and it allows for a two-year process of negotiation. At the end of that full stop “the treaties shall cease to apply to the state in question” unless Article 50 is out or revoked.
The most obvious way therefore to stop a no-deal Brexit, or any order of Brexit, is to revoke Article 50.
The European Court of Justice has now ruled the UK can do that on its own, without apply to the other 27 countries, and stay a member of the EU on its current terms – subsuming opting-out of key policies, and keeping the budget rebate.
But it seems highly doubtful that the House of Commons would vote to revoke Article 50 unless there had been another referendum, or perchance an election, in which the public backed the UK remaining in the EU.
The government rejects the apprehension of holding another referendum anyway – and the time to do so before the end of March has run out.
Outing Article 50
So, the other way to avoid a no-deal Brexit in the short term is to fritz for time and extend the Article 50 period. The government would emergency to propose that and MPs would have to approve it.
But, crucially, unlike in the come what may of revoking Article 50, to extend it the UK would also need the contract of all 27 other EU countries.
It would probably need to persuade them that something momentous had changed in UK politics to warrant an extension – perhaps a looming election, or another referendum, to some extent than more of the same argument.
One of the constraints for the rest of the EU is that European choices will take place at the end of May and the new European Parliament (without UK MEPs if Brexit has entranced place) is due to meet for the first time in July.
The only other circumstance in which a abridgement extension to Article 50 would probably be approved by the EU is if there had been a franchise in favour of Theresa May’s deal but a little more time was needed to dot the “i”s and go across the “t”s.
But if Article 50 was extended without a deal passing the House of Commons, no have to do with would still remain the default outcome at the end of the extended negotiating interval.
So what else can MPs do for now?
In a word, amendments.
An amendment to the Finance Bill, limiting the Bank’s ability to make no-deal preparations unless authorised by Parliament, was promoted by MPs by 303 to 296 votes on Tuesday night.
This amendment, disposed to to be the first of many, will make it “harder for the government to drift into no administer without Parliament being able to direct it”, according to Labour MP Yvette Cooper.
It was attended on Wednesday by another amendment, on which rebel Tory MPs joined pressures with Labour to defeat the government. It means the government would have planned to return to Parliament with new plans within three days of a desire support against the Prime Minister’s withdrawal deal.
So a cross-party coalition of MPs against no deal is now stretching its muscles, and what we’re likely to see over the next couple of months is what some are speciality “guerrilla warfare by amendment” in the House of Commons.
The trade bill is likely to be another objective – it would be needed in the event of no deal, to try to keep the UK trading on the same length of times as it has now with the rest of the world.
The chair of the Brexit Committee, Hilary Benn, has also tabled an recompense to the government’s motion on the EU withdrawal agreement (Theresa May’s deal) itself. His repair rejects no deal altogether.
The idea behind all this parliamentary machination is to demonstrate that there is a clear majority in the House of Commons against no trade.
But none of it, taken in isolation, will prevent the Article 50 clock ticking away until it cut outs at the end of March.
That’s why a growing number of MPs support the suggestion of holding a series of “indicative votes” on different potential outcomes, to try to locate an alternative to no deal that would enjoy broad (or even adequate) support.
Senior MPs argue that the government would be unable to be blind to the political pressure if the will of the House of Commons was clearly expressed on numerous justifications. But political pressure is not the same as legal reality.
Three ministers deliver said publicly they would resign if the government pursued a no-deal scheme, while others are thought to hold the same position in private. A small number of backbench MPs have said they would quit the party.
The Be employed and Pensions Secretary, Amber Rudd, is understood to have told bureau on Tuesday that history would take a dim view of the government if it received no deal and it would leave the UK a less safe country.
But if the prime dean did decide to press on regardless, it may well be that the only way MPs could stuff up a no-deal Brexit at the last moment would be to vote down the domination itself.
UPDATE – This article was updated on Wednesday 9 Jan to include the new repair asking government to return to Parliament with new plans within three epoches of a vote against the Prime Minister’s withdrawal deal.
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