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Kate Carr

Kate Carr

Head of Market Affairs

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Prorogation Pit-Stop: What comes next?

Client Alerts30/08/2019

With Brexit looming ever closer, it was never going to be a quiet summer, but the Prime Minister’s decision to prorogue Parliament has resulted in a media furore.

Though it’s probably never been truer that “uncertainty is the only certainty”, we have attempted to make as much sense as we can of the political goings on this week, and what we can expect to see when Parliament returns on Tuesday.

What the prorogation really means

The prorogation will start between 9 -12 September, and last until 14 October. While the Government insists that the new session of Parliament will allow it to pursue its domestic policy agenda, a key impact of prorogation is to limit the time available for MPs to act to prevent a no deal Brexit taking place.

Can Parliament block no deal?

The preferred plan of MPs opposed to a no deal Brexit is to request an emergency debate when Parliament returns on Tuesday 3 September. The motion debated would then be used to set aside Commons time for MPs to debate and pass a Bill obliging the Prime Minister to seek a further extension to Article 50 beyond 31 October.

This approach is preferable to seeking to bring down the Government through a no confidence motion because:

  • There is uncertainty around whether there would be sufficient support from Conservative and independent MPs for a no confidence vote to pass
  • There would be no legal obligation on the Prime Minister to resign in the event of losing a no confidence vote
  • It’s likely that there would be no majority for an alternative Prime Minister during the 14-day period which follows a successful no confidence vote (needed to avoid an election)
  • If a general election was triggered at the end of this 14-day period, the Prime Minister could set a post-31 October polling day, meaning that a no deal Brexit would take place during the general election campaign.

However, a legislative approach to preventing no deal would also face some significant difficulties:

  • It would have to retain a majority throughout multiple stages of debate in both the Commons and Lords, and there are reports that pro-Brexit Peers could seek to filibuster (talk out) the Bill in the Lords
  • The date for the prorogation only leaves a small number of sitting days for the Bill to pass through both Houses and receive Royal Assent
  • Even if the Bill were passed, it would have to be sufficiently ‘watertight’ that the Prime Minister couldn’t work around its provisions and still deliver a no deal Brexit on 31 October, for example by requesting an Article 50 extension and then rejecting the terms of the EU’s extension offer. 

As such, notwithstanding the unity of nearly all opposition parties and some Conservatives behind this approach, there’s a very real possibility of a no deal Brexit taking place at the end of October.

Is there scope for a revised Brexit deal?

There’s always the possibility that the UK and EU could agree a revised Brexit deal that Parliament ratifies before the October deadline.

Having previously said that the Withdrawal Agreement could not be re-opened, the EU has now asked the UK to come up with alternatives to the backstop. The Prime Minister is reported to be open to agreeing the rest of the Withdrawal Agreement – including the UK’s financial settlement with the EU – if the EU changes its position on the backstop.

However, the limited Parliamentary time available to pass this Bill would present a challenge, as would the likely opposition from the possibly significant numbers of Eurosceptic Conservative MPs who may feel that the new agreement does not meet their ‘red lines’.

Might the Government trigger an early general election?

Should MPs look likely to succeed next week in legislating to block a no deal Brexit on 31 October, the Prime Minister could pre-empt this by seeking to trigger an early general election during which he would position himself as on the side of ‘the people’ against a Parliament determined to thwart the 2016 referendum result. An early poll would have to be supported by at least 434 MPs – which is more likely to happen if the proposed date of the election is before 31 October.

In what is widely seen as preparation for a forthcoming election, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will give a statement to Parliament outlining the details of the spending review on 4 September. Schools, the police and the NHS are expected to be the main beneficiaries from the review.

Keoghs viewpoint

Though Parliament is clearly in a state of flux, there is no indication that the insurance industry’s priorities will be affected. With no primary legislation needed to deliver the civil justice reforms, the primary risk is that in the short term civil servants will be diverted away from their day jobs to prepare for no deal – and that the insurance industry’s own resources will be similarly distracted. 

Of course, should the Remainers prevail, there’s also the risk that a different Government might be opposed to the civil justice reforms altogether. For now, all we can do is watch this space…as the saying goes, a week is a long time in politics.