What next? Brexit battle lines drawn

Parvez Jabri August 29, 2019

LONDON: Britain is facing two months of political turmoil as Prime Minister Boris Johnson goes up against MPs who want to prevent a no-deal Brexit from happening.

Here are some of the potential tactics on both sides:

– THE OPPOSITION –

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– Emergency debate –

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MPs opposed to a no-deal Brexit have signalled they plan to use a procedure — known as Standing Order 24 — to hold an emergency House of Commons debate when they return on Tuesday.

Such debates do not end in binding votes but they are hoping Speaker John Bercow, who is seen as sympathetic to their cause, will break with precedent and allow one.

This would let lawmakers take control of Commons business, likely the following day, when they could introduce legislation requiring Johnson to seek a Brexit delay.

– No-confidence vote & election –

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Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the main opposition Labour Party, has said he may table a confidence vote in Johnson’s government — which has a majority of just one — when parliament returns next week.

It would need to pass by a simple majority and would then give MPs 14 days to form an alternative government that could sign a Brexit extension.

But lawmakers have so far failed to agree who would lead an interim administration, with other opposition parties weary of being seen to have handed Corbyn power.

If Johnson or an alternative figure cannot pass a new confidence vote within the 14 days, a general election would be triggered.

However, there is no guarantee that it would take place before the current scheduled date for Brexit on October 31.

– The Courts –

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Various legal challenges are already underway to Johnson’s plans for parliament and a possible no-deal Brexit.

Gina Miller, a businesswoman and leading anti-Brexit campaigner, has applied for an urgent judicial review challenging “the effect and the intention” of parliament’s suspension.

Scotland’s highest civil court held an interim hearing Thursday following a similar application by a Scottish National Party (SNP) politician.

Meanwhile, three separate legal challenges have been lodged in Belfast against a potential no-deal Brexit, claiming it would contravene the British province’s 1998 peace accord.

– Pass existing divorce deal –

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MPs desperate to avoid no deal could reintroduce the withdrawal agreement Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May struck with the EU, if he has failed to finalise a new deal with the bloc by late October.

Voted down three times by lawmakers, and effectively blocked from being voted on again by Speaker John Bercow in that parliamentary session under procedural rules, proponents could now argue it is better than a no-deal departure.

– THE GOVERNMENT –

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– Parliamentary obstruction

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The government is said to be considering various mechanisms, including unveiling a new budget — a set-piece event in the British legislative calendar — to eat up even more parliamentary time ahead of October 31.

Using a filibuster in the House of Lords — where some lawmakers keep talking to avoid others from doings so — to stall any anti-no deal laws that have been passed in the Commons is also allegedly being mulled.

Another option discussed in Downing Street is delaying giving royal assent to such legislation until parliament had been prorogued, effectively killing the bill, according to The Times.

– Ignore opposition

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Johnson has reportedly sought advice on whether he would be breaking the law if he ignored rebel legislation ordering him to seek a Brexit delay or refused to resign following a no-confidence vote, according to reports.

– Go to the people

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Johnson could himself seek to take advantage of the fractured pro-Remain opposition and call a general election, hoping to get a mandate for no deal and the subsequent legislation that will need to be passed.

However, he would require a two-thirds majority of MPs to vote for a snap election and would be wary of anti-EU populist Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party — which topped May’s European elections — eating into the Conservative vote.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Press), 2019

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