The Benn Bill: Parliament Takes Control: No No Deal- 6th September 2019
So the Hilary Benn Bill has just been passed by the House of Lords, with no amendments. What that means is that it will not have to return to the Commons and on Monday, providing the Government doesn’t play silly beggars, will be sent to the Queen for Royal Assent, at which moment it becomes part of the UK’s statutory law.
Generally the effect of this is that if by 19th October, the House of Commons have not approved, and the House of Lords has not debated either a withdrawal agreement, or a statement that the UK is to leave the EU without a deal, the Prime Minister is obliged by act of parliament to send a letter, the form of which is provided in the Bill, on 19th October to the President of the European Council seeking an extension of the Article 50 period until 31st January 2020. If this extension is offered, the Prime Minister is required to accept it. If the EU offer an extension to a date other than 31st January 2020, then the PM may either accept it, or ask the Commons if they accept it.
The Prime Minister has been very vocal in saying that he will not go to Brussels for an extension. The phrase he used yesterday in his technically-a-speech at the Police training centre was “I’d rather die in a ditch”. So what options does he have? In reality he has several options. I’ve put them in what I see as the vague order of likelihood. He could just go to Brussels for an extension. This would be very humiliating and at the oncoming election would undermine his claim that Britain is leaving no matter what. He could call a vote of no confidence in himself and whip the Tory MPs to vote for it. This would be utterly absurd, but I fear this is the point we are at. It would also make it difficult in the election when he had to explain why he had called a vote of no confidence in himself. He could do some sort of shenanigans where he asks for but then tries to scupper an extension. This would almost certainly result in either a legal challenge or a no confidence vote. He could just straight up resign. But if he did so, with so few Tories in the House, it would not be a new Tory called as PM, but we would be back to the situation where wranglings would be needed to find someone acceptable to a majority (hint: it’s not Jeremy Corbyn). Theoretically, if he did this he could prorogue Parliament to cut off the 14 day period required to find a new Government under the Fixed Term Parliament Act, and then just choose a date for the election when he wanted it. Politically this would be absolutely chaotic and I would expect more legal challenges over it. He could disobey the law. If he did so, I would expect to see him removed from office, either through a simple vote of confidence, or very possibly by the use of the impeachment powers that Parliament still has (though they have not been used since 1806). Finally, he could just die in a ditch. In many ways, this would be the easiest option for him. It would get him out of having to betray his promise at least.
It is, like almost everything at the moment, very difficult to predict with any confidence what will happen next. Whatever happens now though, in theory, no deal Brexit on 31st October is much less likely, provided that the EU gives us the extension. As always, available for questions.
6th September 2019