Still unclear how and when Brexit impasse will be broken

As MPs return to Westminster following the summer recess, Julian Francis considers the likely political developments ahead of another momentous week in UK politics.

Parliament is set to face more votes this week as MPs debate Brexit.

With MPs returning to Westminster following the summer recess, the stage is set for a test of wills between Boris Johnson and his opponents in the House of Commons. The government’s decision to prorogue parliament and so limit the number of sitting days between now and the 31 October has clearly angered the remainers in both the Conservative party and the opposition  but it still remains unclear how they will respond or even if they agree on a  solution to the problem of Brexit. 

As of now, the House of Commons continues to remain undecided on how to proceed and so it is unclear how the impasse will be broken. There is no majority for the exit agreement as it now stands but no majority to delay or prevent Brexit either. The only thing that is clear is that legislation requires us to leave the EU on 31 October and this will be the default position unless and until parliament amends the European Withdrawal Act.

All of which brings us to this week, as the Commons will now sit for a few short days until the 12 September when Parliament will be prorogued ahead of the party conferences. This provides a short window in which the opponents of the government can launch a challenge to the Johnson’s stated aim of leaving by 31 October. As the government will not introduce legislation to amend the Withdrawal Act, it falls to the opposition to try and do so by seizing control of the order of business of the Commons to allow them to introduce the legislation themselves. Should they be successful, the clock will be ticking to see if they can pass the legislation through both houses before next Thursday. This will be the first test for the government as their opponents will have to succeed in achieving this on Tuesday if they are to have any chance of success. If they fail it will be one-nil to Johnson. 

Even if they succeed in getting the legislation through, it does not mean the government will have lost as the legislation needs royal assent to become an act. The government can and no doubt will delay this process until after parliament is prorogued, thus killing the bill, as any bill that has not been approved before parliament adjourned will be voided.  

So, this is what this week will hold; a lot of sound and fury but not much else. There still remains the nuclear option of the opposition tabling a confidence vote, but Labour have moved away from this as they no longer believe they will win. Even if they did win, however, it would just mean an election would have to be held ending once and for all the possibility of parliament debating Brexit before 31 October. The government has a strong hand to play and they know it, so all they have to do is keep calm and carry on.     

Julian Francis is director of external affairs at the Association for Consultancy and Engineering.

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