Friday, 17 May 2019

Could a new Prime Minister take Britain out of the EU without a deal? It's hard to say

The Conservative leadership election should take place as quickly as possible so that the new Prime Minister has time to do something before the extension of the time-limit for leaving the EU expires on Hallowe'en, even though I am sure the other EU leaders will persuade President Macron to agree to a further extension.

The strong card of Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab is that they resigned from the cabinet over the Withdrawal Agreement. Either of them as Prime Minister means a new start. The rest are a continuation of the Theresa May cabinet which was bound by collective responsibility to all the things she did and wanted to do.

But can either man persuade the Europeans to alter the agreement? Who knows? But if not that leaves the Withdrawal Agreement or leaving with no deal - which is back to where we are now.

Robert Peston of ITV who was sure we would be forced to leave with no deal now thinks a general election is needed to break the impasse but I disagree. An election would be far too big a risk for the Tories and at best would mean the same Tory MPs who cannot countenance no deal returning to their seats in Parliament.

No deal is the legal default and a vote of the House of Commons cannot change that. The Cooper-Letwin Bill, which became the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019 [PDF] has not “ruled out” no-deal, despite media reports. It simply required the government to lay a motion in the Commons specifying a date by which an Article 50 extension should be sought, which the government did. That's it. 

So can Boris Johnson take the UK out of the EU without a deal? The Houses of Commons and Lords are opposed to it but backbenchers do not have the power to stop it unless they take over control of the order paper again and force through another Act of Parliament, as they did to pass the Cooper-Letwin Bill by a majority of one (the one vote being cast by a Labour MP who had just come back from the clink and has since been expelled). for Tory MPs to do that might bring down the new Prime Minister or force him to call an election that the Tories do not want.

Admittedly under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011 a defeat on a confidence motion is followed by a two week period for a new administration to be formed. In any case, the Sovereign never needs to call an election, simply because the Prime Minister asks for one, if he does not command a majority. But the threat of an election and the Brexit Party will inspire terror in Tory MPs.

It is all very murky.

Were I in Theresa May's leopardskin shoes I'd resign immediately, advise the Queen to appoint my ally and 'de facto deputy Prime Minister' David Lidington as caretaker Prime Minister and hope this would enable him to win the leadership election, to continue her policies or lack of them. I doubt being anointed by his predecessor would help him though. 

He has said that being close to the iron throne for three years he does not want the job and I believe him.

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