Could parliament actually stop a no-deal exit if a hard Brexiteer succeeds Theresa May?

A managed Breixt is far from certain. 

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Can parliament still stop no deal? That’s the question occupying the minds of various MPs.

The series of votes that saw Brexit delayed past 29 March were facilitated by the government’s defeat way back in December 2017, thanks to an amendment by Dominic Grieve and the successful efforts of Westminster’s various opposition parties.

But the government’s obligations under that amendment have been exhausted by the various meaningful votes, which means that there is no technical reason why a government led by Dominic Raab or Esther McVey or Boris Johnson couldn’t simply prorogue parliament until 31 October and secure a no-deal Brexit without parliament’s consent.

That’s part of the reason why Conservative opponents of no deal are getting organised to prevent the election of a committed no dealer now, and why Philip Hammond will use his address to the Confederation of British Industry’s annual dinner tonight to warn of the consequences of a no-deal exit.

In practice, that even advocates of no deal talk up a “managed” non-negotiated exit from the bloc means that you would need parliamentary consent to prepare for no deal.

Let’s park for a moment that the reality is that preparing for no deal is a titanic, essentially impossible undertaking. To do it properly would require substantial increases in both public and private spending in order for the public services, supermarkets, port authorities and so on to be truly ready. Serious preparation for no deal would take place against a backdrop of market panic and increasingly shrill business lobbying.

Support for no deal – which has never been above a third of the public – should be compared with support for the £12.5bn of welfare cuts, which, in theory, commanded majority support in both the country and in parliament. Yet in practice, trying to implement even £3.5bn of them broke the back of David Cameron’s government, ended George Osborne’s leadership hopes and quite probably tipped the balance in the referendum. 

But if you want to start talking seriously about the compulsory purchases, the buying of warehouses, and the price increases for ordinary consumers, then parliament is going to have to be involved and will have opportunities to prevent it.

The bigger risk is that the majority against no deal in parliament simply evaporates. Talk of a managed no deal has well and truly entered the mainstream of Conservative thinking – that Amber Rudd, in launching a group designed expressly to prevent it, has to talk about no deal as an undesirable but possible outcome, is an indicator of where the mood of the Tory party is moving.

Throw in the difficult selection battles for prominent pro-European Conservatives, like Philip Lee and Sam Gyimah, and the shock to the system from the likely victory of the Brexit Party, and the problem may not be that parliament lacks the opportunities to stop no deal, but that it loses the will to do so.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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