Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. UK Politics
8 January 2019

Why extending Article 50 isn’t enough to prevent a no-deal Brexit

Parliament would still need to be able to agree on an alternative.

By Stephen Bush

Is there another way to avoid a no-deal exit on 29 March 2019? The Telegraph reports that conversations have begun between officials in the European Commission and here in the United Kingdom about the possibility of extending Article 50.

In addition to the so-called meaningful vote on the terms of the UK’s exit from the European Union, the British government also needs to pass the Withdrawal Agreement Bill into law, which requires not just one vote but for the bill to pass through both Houses of Parliament.

Extension, unlike revocation, cannot be done by the United Kingdom alone and requires unanimity from the other 27 nations of the EU, but would in reality be forthcoming should it be needed to take account of a general election, another referendum or if the United Kingdom can be said to have agreed the terms but not yet legally codified them, ie if parliament has passed the meaningful vote but not yet passed the Withdrawal Agreement Bill into law.

But it doesn’t free parliament from its need to agree on something in place of no deal, the legal default under the Article 50 process. An extension is available for the UK to facilitate a decision that has been reached: it isn’t available to extend discussions further. (In any case, one reason why Downing Street is reluctant to extend is that any extension will come with further political concessions, which will further complicate passing the Withdrawal Agreement.)

So what’s left to prevent no deal? The Labour leadership is rowing in behind Yvette Cooper’s amendment to the Finance Bill, which if passed, would mean that the government could not use its financial powers to implement no deal without first extending Article 50 or seeking a vote in the House of Commons.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

The amendment has attracted support from MPs across the House including from both Remainers and Leavers, and includes supporters of every possible way out of the crisis (May’s deal, another referendum, May’s deal with a rewritten political declaration, general election) other than no deal, which means it is very likely to pass, but underlines why it won’t, in and of itself, prevent no deal. The only way parliament can do that is to agree to either go ahead with Brexit or to stop it.

Topics in this article :