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22 October 2018updated 07 Jun 2021 2:46pm

Why MPs still don’t have a clear plan to stop a no-deal Brexit

By Stephen Bush

MPs have been handed an opportunity by the House of Lords to block off one path to no deal. Peers have voted for an amendment that would prevent parliament from being suspended until the Article 50 process is over and done.

Will it pass? That Boris Johnson is openly setting out a series of red lines over Brexit, which make it hard to see how a deal will be reached or the withdrawal agreement can be brought back in its current form, may stiffen the spines of enough Conservative rebels to get it over line. But, as ever, it will be a close-run thing, with several Labour MPs who don’t want to see Brexit – and by my count, seven who now believe that no deal is a better outcome than no Brexit at all.

The problem for the government is that we are at or near peak Labour rebel but the last few divisions have seen Conservative rebellions drop down to just ten for a variety of reasons. The difficulty for the MPs who want to stop no deal, however, is that those reasons – fear of deselection, fear of an election, hope that Johnson doesn’t really mean it – haven’t quite gone away.

There’s an important proviso, though, even if the amendment passes the Commons: this vote ultimately isn’t a vote to stop no deal. It’s merely a vote to give parliament more time to potentially, at some point in the future vote to stop no deal. 

And, of course, any method that might actually stop a no deal Brexit – revocation, whether with or without a referendum, or passing the withdrawal agreement  – is more unpopular in parliament than procedural motions to stop no deal in an as yet undefined way.

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Because that’s the really big test for MPs. We know that they can vote to deplore no deal, delay no deal or in some way or another – or at least they used to. But they have never shown an ability to do so by large enough margins or in a manner that does not rely on a friendly executive to assist their efforts.