Can MPs stop a no-deal Brexit?

Boris Johnson © Kirsty Wigglesworth - WPA Pool/Getty Images
Johnson: lion – or paper tiger?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, has sent a “defiant warning to MPs” that they have left it “too late” to block Britain leaving the EU without a deal on 31 October. “Politicians don’t get to choose which votes they respect,” he said, arguing that even if there were a “clear majority” against no-deal, there is nothing they can do to prevent it. He argues that even if MPs passed a vote of no confidence, Johnson “could simply call a general election in November, ensuring Parliament was not sitting” on the exit deadline.

Parliament could, however, install an alternative government after a vote of no confidence, says Vernon Bogdanor in The Guardian. It could also legislate to delay Brexit, or revoke Article 50 entirely. However, MPs need to be aware that “a no-deal Brexit can be prevented only by legislation, not by a mere expression of parliamentary opinion”. Getting these measures, or a vote of no confidence, through Parliament in the face of active opposition from the government “will be a Herculean task”.

Forcibly stopping no-deal will require MPs to navigate some treacherous constitutional waters and that may be a task that’s beyond them, especially given Jeremy Corbyn’s insistence that he would head any unity government, says Robert Shrimsley in the FT. Still, the prospect of a no-deal exit is unlikely to allow Johnson to succeed in extracting the necessary concessions from the EU, nor persuade them to make “side deals” that could smooth a no-deal Brexit. If Brussels calls Johnson’s bluff, the PM may end up looking more like a paper tiger than a lion.