By William James
British lawmakers approved the first of several measures that could make it more difficult for the next prime minister to force through a no-deal Brexit by suspending parliament, although the moves stopped short of an outright block.
Boris Johnson, the favourite to take over as leader and run Britain’s exit from the European Union, has argued the country should leave the EU on Oct. 31 even if no formal transition deal has been agreed.
This has raised speculation that Johnson could suspend parliament to prevent lawmakers, a majority of whom have expressed their opposition to a no-deal Brexit, from thwarting his “do or die” exit plan.
On Tuesday, lawmakers voted 294 to 293 in favour of a change to legislation passing through parliament which would require ministers to make fortnightly reports on progress towards re-establishing Northern Ireland’s collapsed executive.
This could complicate any attempt to suspend parliament later in the year as a way to prevent lawmakers from trying to block a no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31. Further votes on supplementary measures were expected later on Tuesday. None will explicitly prevent the suspension of parliament.
Nevertheless, those hoping to stop a no-deal Brexit believe the plan could require parliament to be in session throughout the run-up to Brexit day, complicating any bid by Britain’s new prime minister to suspend, or “prorogue” the legislature.
“I freely admit that one of the purposes behind these amendments is to try to ensure that this extraordinary threat … – that we should be prorogued – can be banged on the head,” said Dominic Grieve, the lawmaker behind the proposal.
If parliament is sitting, those opposed to a no-deal Brexit believe they can find a way to block an unmanaged exit which investors fear would cause major disruption to the world’s fifth-largest economy and to its trading partners.
Johnson has not ruled out suspending parliament, but is hoping instead to renegotiate a Brexit deal that can be approved by lawmakers. Brussels has said the existing deal, which parliament has rejected three times, cannot be reopened.