Dominic Cummings is wrong: MPs can stop ‘no deal’

by Hugo Dixon | 05.08.2019

Boris Johnson’s top aide says the prime minister can delay an election until after we’ve crashed out, even if he loses a vote of confidence, according to the Sunday Telegraph. That’s not quite true.

We do not live in a dictatorship. MPs will have to do a lot of heavy lifting when they get back from their holidays on September 3. But if they want to stop “no deal”, they can. 

Dominic Cummings does have half a point. If there’s an election, the Queen chooses the date on the “recommendation of the prime minister” under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act.

What this means is that MPs cannot stop a no-deal Brexit if Johnson a) loses a no-confidence vote, b) recommends to the Queen to delay an election until after we’ve crashed out of the EU and c) hangs on as prime minister.

There are, though, a lot of “ifs” in the previous sentence. Let’s look at them in turn.

For a start, Cummings is assuming that there will be a no-confidence vote. But that shouldn’t be MPs’ Plan A. It would be better to pass legislation forcing Johnson to ask for extra time to hold a referendum – and only turn to a no-confidence vote if that fails. If the legislation route works, Cummings’ whole scheme falls apart.

Is Johnson really Cummings’ puppet?

Even if there’s a no-confidence vote, will the prime minister really act as cynically and undemocratically as Cummings is supposing – and delay an election until after we’ve crashed out? In the scenario we are considering, Johnson would be disregarding the will of Parliament and preempting the will of the people. 

There would be strong moral, political and possibly even legal pressure on him not to do so. The Cabinet Manual states that governments which have lost no-confidence votes are “expected by convention to observe discretion in initiating any new action of a continuing or long-term character”. (See para 2.27).

Taking us out of the EU without a deal would have massive long-term consequences. This is presumably why the Cabinet Secretary has presented legal advice that the prime minister would have a constitutional duty to ask the EU to delay Brexit so an election could be held, according to the Sunday Times. 

Emergency government

Now of course, it’s possible that Johnson will be so brazen that he will try to plough on regardless. But would he then hang onto power? 

This seems unlikely. Sensible MPs from different parties should come together to form an emergency government, which would ask the EU for extra time to hold either an election or a referendum.

Dominic Grieve, the Tory MP and a former attorney general, floated this idea yesterday, telling the BBC: “There are a number of things which the House of Commons can do, including bringing down the government [via a vote of no confidence] and setting up a new government in its place.”

When someone put to this possibility to Cummings, “he spat his drink out laughing,” a senior Downing Street official told the FT. “The idea we will hand over to a new government rather than leave with an election after October 31 is laughable.”

But Cummings is wrong again. If a prime minister loses a vote of confidence, there are 14 days to see if anybody can command a majority in Parliament, under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act

“The prime minister is expected to resign where it is clear that he or she does not have the confidence of the House of Commons and that an alternative government does have the confidence,” according to the Cabinet Manual (See para 2.19). What’s more, if Johnson still dug his heels in, the Queen has the reserve power to dismiss him. (See para 2.9).

Cummings is indeed a “master of misinformation”, as Grieve said yesterday. People need to be aware of his devilish plans, but should not fall for the propaganda that he’s all-powerful.

24 Responses to “Dominic Cummings is wrong: MPs can stop ‘no deal’”

  • Let’s cut the crap!
    All those trying to stop no deal are desperately trying to stop us leaving the EU altogether (at least Jo Swinson is being honest about her position even though it utterly disregards the 2016 referendum result).
    If they genuinely want a good deal then the best way has to be supporting the Government position.

  • Did you vote for a no deal Brexit, then, Peter? As before, please tell us your vision of Britain after Brexit, especially if you get your wish for no deal. How will we be better off, more secure ? Come on now, tell us and please do not give us the Johnson bluster. Tell us how much GDP will go up with evidence. Tell us your vision or are you reluctant because you, and the rest of the Ultras, do not have a clue? As Rory Stewart said, ‘ a wing and a prayer’.

  • As Peter says, Jo Swinson has made no bones about the clear Liberal Democrat policy to stop brexit altogether (any form of brexit is harmful to the UK) but the allegation by some that she would refuse to accept a decision by a “people’s vote” to confirm the brexit decision is completely untrue. Jo made it crystal clear in an interview by Sophy Ridge that she would have to accept such a decision but that it would not change her mind as to the harm it would cause. In such an event she said years of debate and negotiation would ensue and that Liberal Democrats would campaign to preserve the closest possible relationship with the EU.
    However the Liberal Democrat belief is that full EU membership is by far the best position for our country and will do their level best to preserve that while it is still possible.

  • Peter may be right that the best way to get a good deal would be to support this dreadful Government.

    But however good a deal Johnson may be able get there is a much better deal available – a deal that has been proven to be of great benefit to the UK; a deal which works well for the Irish border and for peace in Europe; for UK business and the economy and lots more..
    And a deal that would be considerably cheaper – both in money that needs to be spent and in terms of avoiding economic damage.

    How many guesses do you need?

  • Peter, you are definitely not dumb but are you deaf and blind ? Every credible authority has said the same thing – Brexit will cripple the UK for years. Oh, hang on, I’m referring to experts, dismissed by Gove as unimportant. But if you want to rewire your house, do you get some kid in off the street, or hire a professional ? Hmmm. Experts are experts because they know what they’re talking about. So if they (particularly the BoE) say there’s going to be a great wailing and gnashing of teeth if we crash out, indeed even if we leave with a deal, they are RIGHT. Why are you so obstinately clinging to Brexit ? The country will NOT be better off outside the EU – if so, the other 27 members would be queuing up to leave. Our sovereignty has never been in question. Our ability to trade with the rest of the world outside the EU has never been affected by membership of the EU. And we have been instrumental in shaping the EU as it is today.

    The referendum was less about the EU and almost entirely about internal politics and the N/S divide. Only a minority truly understood the EU, indeed, some didn’t even know we were in it. That Cameron was obviously in favour of staying in, was sufficient for large number of disaffected voters to vote the opposite, just to give him two fingers. And now we’re stuck with the consequences. It really doesn’t inspire confidence in the electorate that, even now, after we’ve exhaustively examined Brexit and all its implications, there are still people – intelligent people like yourself – who still embrace it.

    Glory be.

  • Peter says ‘cut out the crap’. Well-let’s start with the referendum. In 1976 we voted to stay in the EU. How come we had a referendum in 2016, then? In legal reality, no-one has a definitive answer on the status of that referendum. The most common view is that it was advisory not mandatory so all this crap about the ‘will of the people/traitors’ and worse is legally inaccurate. And perhaps we can then leave aside the corruption, the denial of votes and other matters that a legally binding referendum would be declared null and void for. Have your views, but stop distorting the process we are involved in.

  • The only ultras are the ones that refuse to accept the result of the 2016 referendum!
    As I have said (many times) on this site, the short term will undoubtedly be bumpy but with the flexibility of independently controlling our own economy and society we will I am sure prosper in the long term. I really want to see us reduce our need on imports and strongly support our own agriculture and fishing industries. There will have to be change in many industries such as motor manufacturing (which will happen regardless of Brexit), banking and other large scale enterprises – I also hope that SME’s will thrive as the big boys get their wings clipped.
    Who truly knows what may happen in the future but at the end of the day this country voted to leave (preferably with some sort of amicable arrangement) not remain (or a dogs dinner deal like Maybots). And I would bet hard cash that so many of the experts that a lot of you guys like to quote are completely wrong 10 years from now as it has been these remain experts that perpetuated project fear from the start of the referendum campaign.

  • Although I lived in South America for a time I cannot think of a Junta that proved itself to be as stupas ours. They tended to be made up, of course of relatively well educated military men, whereas ours . . . . .

  • Peter: Your latter reply is bluster, based on hope and not on evidence. You have no idea at all what will happen, but the warnings of the consequences of no deal are there. Please Google the Institute for Government’s ‘Preparing for Brexit: No Deal’. You, sir, are spitting in the wind. The Ultras are the guys who are hell bent on wrecking the country to further their own selfish ends. Start with the ERG and carry on.
    By the way, the political consequences are also dire, particularly the potential break up of the UK. Most worrying is the hard won peace in N Ireland and the dangers of a hard border have been spelt out by correspondents to the ‘reply’ section of this website. And they are people who know Irish history and appreciate the nuances of NI.
    Re: betting your money well that’s what Johnson and his crew are doing GAMBLING with our future.

  • William,
    I cannot for the life of me see why you and so many others on this site are so utterly committed to the EU project? You seem to have taken the Armageddon scenario hook line and sinker and scream at anybody who actually believes that this country (and other European countries) are perfectly capable of conducting our own affairs without the rules and regulations of a supranational organisation. Democracy is the key and you demonstrate your hostility to ours by your continual railing against the 2016 vote. Perhaps we will have another vote in the next 20 or 30 years with regards to re-joining but I would suggest that the 2016 vote has to be honoured first.
    Oh and by the way, I am one of those who strongly believes that it is in all our best interests that Ireland re-unifies in the long term – do you really think the Irish Republic actually wants that now? Also if Scotland truly wants independence then good for them.

  • If objectively speaking, we have currently the greatest governmental crisis within the last 50 years, can there be any justification for Parliament being on holiday for another month? If Johnson and his Government are sincere in wanting to avert a No Deal, he seems to be doing remarkably little to try and avert it. What are they actually doing? We need some proper journos not afraid to put Johnson and his team on the spot, as many times as necessary, and not get fobbed off by the Cummings spin machine.

  • Reports of dishonesty, skulduggery and dark money funding the continuing brexit effort are coming to light. However much effort is made to suppress these reports, some truth is bubbling to the surface. It is clear:

    The referendum was dishonestly run
    Many voters had no idea of the consequences of their vote
    Few, if any, voted for the economic and social destruction of the UK as we know it.

    Blubbo and his brexit war cabinet are determined to force an action that few of the population voted for. He has no plan beyond the cliff and expects to be rescued by our good friend Trump and the whole of the commonwealth as it existed in 1950 or so. (However often this has been shown an impossibility.)

    Efforts to destabilise opposition parties have been made both in the UK (business as usual) and by groups funded by foreign NGOs and governments who see an advantage in chaos ruling the UK. Free for all takeover of UK assets and tax haven heaven top the list but there are many reasons why the wealthy desire a country without conscience or controls.

    Withdraw A50, the quickest and least expensive way out of this mess we are in. How can conditions that exist in the UK right now be preferable to resuming our seat at the top table as a respected and honourable member of the world’s largest trade group? Don’t forget, we would not forfeit our right to decide to leave at a later date. When we have a plan and are better prepared, but not now.

  • A wise carpenter measures 10 times and cuts once.

    There is nothing undemocratic about double checking what the wishes of the people are today, especially as (a) the 2016 result was far too close to give a clear answer, and (b), the debate has now shifted from in/out to in/out+deal/out-deal.

    We could consider ourselves fortunate in the UK having so many politicians and influencers who willingly share their passionate beliefs and wishes. However, if the public were to be permitted to separate opinion from fact, maybe the following would help to clear the minds of those who want to make the best choice for future generations:

    1. Going back to senior school economics, nations trade to sell products & services that they can produce more efficiently than others , and to buy products and services that others can produce more efficiently than they. Trade there can be mutually beneficial, and being within a free trade area of 500 million customers on your doorstep has clear advantages.

    2. When nations trade with each other, it is inevitable that a small part of their sovereignty will be surrendered. The only way to avoid giving up any sovereignty is to avoid all trade.

    3. While the UK trades with the EU (either as a member or a third party), the UK (and all member states) must follow the EU directives in the areas where all member states have agreed to surrender sovereignty. So, the areas where the EU has complete competency to set standards are (a) a small proportion of the total, and (b) only those that all member states have agreed are best controlled centrally.

    A healthy well-informed discussion can lead to a wiser more democratic outcome.

  • Peter
    I am totally committed to the European Project because I understand the background to it and realise that the world has changed. It is not based on a whim but an opinion based on historical evidence. No longer an Empire, no longer a world power. I don’t believe in bellicosity and nationalism of the wrong sort. We belong to Europe and the most prominent role and influence we can have is as positive leading member of the EU.
    We could then add pragmatism to the argument. Our stall is set out as part of the EU and has been for almost 50 years. Why rip up what has been achieved and effectively start again.? Sheer madness. As you cannot provide certainly that life will be better than now outside the EU there is absolutely no good reason for leaving the it.

  • Peter- Ireland was partitioned by the British in 1922. The British were also the authors of partition in Palestine in 1947 and India in 1947. Whenever you have partition you get trouble, fighting and death. At the moment there is relative peace in Ireland and your Brexit threatens it. You need to remember that. As you admitted you are gambling with everyone’ s future.

  • I haven’t seen these so called intelligent “democratic” Present in facts, why it’s so good to still be part of the EU as the wave been part of the eu 40 years and we are in a bad state as it is, and experts, yes the same experts that predicted we would be in armageddon after we didn’t join the Euro, unfortunately there are alot of sheep on this page ie. the remainers, easy answer, remain didn’t know what they were voting for and now try to use “made up higher intelligence ” than leavers to push mystic mega facts, literal idiots, most of them that would blow over in the wind.

  • There is no certainty in life. And I note there is no mention of democracy in your reply, I therefore presume you are comfortable with a totalitarian EU empire – because that is the way it is heading.

  • Cummings is emerging as the most powerful figure in Government. Should the Blair government have anointed an unelected undemocratically chosen figure such as Powell or Campbell and conferred upon them the powers wielded by Cummings, the Tory party would have been apoplectic. Parliament must neutralise a maverick whose experience and qualifications in parliamentary are questionable in the interests of the people.

  • I have said it before I know, but it is pointless trying to convince guys like Peter. He is happy to consume your energy and as it keeps you from talking to someone who will actually listen or who could actually make a difference.

  • Stopping No Deal also depends on Labour playing a constructive role. You don’t get that impression listening to Rebecca Long-Bailey, their spokeswoman on business.
    She was saying Labour would not support a Government of national unity. A clear means of preventing a No deal, which they say they want to prevent. What do Labour really want? Just to be around to pick up the pieces after the damage has been done, and we’ve already crashed out?
    The sooner Labour get rid of Corbyn, the better for them. As otherwise the electorate will get rid of them as a party at the next General Election, and rightly so.

  • Apologies, Tony. Should read Tony Evans in my last and final reply to anything Peter writes on this website.

  • Sorry you feel that way William as I have quite enjoyed our bit of jousting. Funny how so many on here take offence to an alternative view.

  • Does what Cummings is suggesting amount to contempt of Parliament? As they have had to be reminded in the last couple of years, thanks to Gina Miller, the Government and PM are not above the law of the land. If they plough on regardless, this can only end for those responsible, in some kind of public inquiry or tribunal.