Parliament’s latest bid to stop a no-deal Brexit could be bad news for Boris Johnson

Johnson has promised the UK will leave the EU on 31 October “do or die”. The Tory leadership election could change if members feel the option on offer is “die”.

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

If at first you don't succeed, try, try and try again: Dominic Grieve has a new plan to stop the government from taking the United Kingdom out of the European Union without a deal — preventing the relevant departments from spending money unless parliament actively consents to a no-deal Brexit. He and Margaret Beckett have tabled amendments to the estimates votes — the usually routine votes to authorise government expenditure — that would prevent four departments (Education, Housing and Local Government, International Development, Work and Pensions) from spending any money if a no-deal Brexit happens without parliament's say. (Why those departments? Because they happen to be the four departments whose spending has been randomly chosen for separate debate this year.) 

So it wouldn't stop no-deal — but by preventing the work of two of the big spending departments it would make a no-deal exit still more chaotic and make it all the harder for the government to go for one. Because Jeremy Corbyn's bid to prevent a no-deal did not pass, MPs have no surefire way to take control of the legislative agenda and prevent no-deal: they can only take their limited opportunities to discourage no-deal rather than to stop it.

Will it pass? Well, it's a week off but its chances, as always with these votes, will be on a knife edge. That it is being pushed by two vocal advocates of a second referendum will mean that the Labour MPs who rebelled over Corbyn's motion will almost all do the same again, but the good news for opponents of no-deal is that we are probably at or near peak Labour rebel — Corbyn's defeated motion attracted the support of just ten Conservative rebels, near the bottom end of what we've come to expect. 

It has implications for the Conservative leadership race, too. Boris Johnson is doing well at the hustings in part thanks to his pledge that taking the United Kingdom out of the European Union by 31 October is “do or die”. If parliament can get its act together, it might just change the race if Conservative members feel that the option he is actually offering is “die”. 

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.