Could Jeremy Corbyn’s motion to hand control to parliament stop a no-deal Brexit?

If passed, the motion would give MPs control of a single day of the legislative agenda, for purposes as yet undecided.

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

Jeremy Corbyn has tabled a motion today that, if passed, would see parliament take control of the legislative agenda on 25 June – allowing MPs to introduce legislation that could stop no deal.

It’s an early test of the strategic gamble that is being made by Boris Johnson and his close allies, which is that while MPs talk about stopping no deal, when push comes to shove, they will shy away from the only route to preventing a no-deal Brexit: a vote to revoke Article 50.

Of course, Corbyn’s motion is some way short of that. All it would do, if passed, is give MPs control of a single day of the legislative agenda, for purposes as yet undecided. Most likely to pass would be a bill to give parliament, not the executive, control of when and for how long the legislature can be suspended for. As it stands, as Geoffrey Cox told the cabinet yesterday, prorogation would be “‘unconstitutional, improper, but not illegal”‘.

But there’s a lot that has to happen between now and 25 June, starting today with a government defeat. Will it happen? One reason why Labour is moving now is that its leadership has been convinced, by conversations between Nick Brown, Labour’s chief whip, and the Tory opponents of no deal that there are enough Conservative rebels to make it a goer.

Votes can be lost at both ends, however: several Labour MPs are irritated and perplexed by the plan, and think it is a Trojan horse to revoke Article 50 and/or hold a second referendum. It’s the first test of how the European elections have changed the Parliamentary Labour Party’s assessment of the balance of risks: for the majority of Labour MPs who hold seats where the Liberal Democrats have been the historic rival, it has boosted support for a second referendum. What we don’t know yet is what it has done as far as the minority of Labour MPs who oppose a second referendum are concerned. Privately, there are enough opponents of this motion for its chances of passing to look slim – but that’s always been true, and the Labour whips have usually managed to get enough of their side over the line. It’s also a big test of how Conservative opponents of no deal feel things are going.

There’s a case being made by Labour sceptics of the motion and notionally supportive Conservative rebels that they will have other chances to prevent the government from taking the UK out of the EU without a deal. This alliance might be enough to sink the motion. If it does, it will boost Johnson’s argument that pursuing a Brexit on any terms by 31 October need not mean an election. If it doesn’t, Conservative minds may turn to the question of which candidate is best placed to avoid a general election before Brexit is unresolved, which might just throw a surprise into the Tory leadership race.

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.