By Joe Marshall
Events in the Commons this week have shown that there is, as long predicted, a parliamentary majority against no deal. But it is important not to overstate Parliament’s ability to stop no deal from happening. Parliament alone cannot prevent the UK leaving on 29 March, and a no-deal Brexit remains the default position in international and domestic law. Only the Government, with Parliament’s support, can take no deal off the table.
There are only three ways no deal can be ruled out, all of which must be initiated by the Government. First, ministers can bring forward a deal with the EU that commands parliamentary support and is subsequently ratified by both sides and implemented into domestic law through an Act of Parliament. Second, Article 50 can be extended by unanimous agreement of the UK and EU27, with domestic law also needing to be amended to reflect the delay in departure. Third, the UK can unilaterally revoke Article 50, although the Government may need parliamentary authority to do so, and in any case will need to amend no deal domestic legislation to prevent it taking effect.
The real question is whether Parliament can force the Government to try and prevent no deal. Clearly, MPs are willing to put pressure on the Government—and there are several different means through which they can do this.
First, MPs could try and table amendments to bills that deal with preparations for no deal—as the Commons did on Tuesday, passing an amendment to the Finance Bill that mean the Government’s use of some specific no deal powers will need express parliamentary approval. This showed Parliament is willing to hold some of the Government’s no deal preparations hostage in an attempt to force it into avoiding a no deal. While this specific amendment will have a relatively limited impact, Parliament could yet take aim at the Estimates, which authorise changes to departmental spending – usually dealt with in February.
Second, the Government still has
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