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Analysis

Ministers must give PM firm deadline to ask for extra time

by Nick Kent | 06.02.2019

With barely 50 days to go to Brexit the country is seriously at risk of falling into the chaos of a no deal exit.

Theresa May’s strategy seems to be to run down the clock so MPs have no choice but to accept her deal or the abyss. Those who wish to foil this ploy – including ministers such as Philip Hammond and Amber Rudd – must set her a firm deadline by which she needs to either get a deal through Parliament or ask the EU for extra time.

But what should that deadline be? Much depends on how long it would take for Parliament to pass the emergency legislation to delay Brexit if the prime minister digs her heels in.  

Some MPs worry that because the House of Lords is self regulating, it could take as long as three weeks for it to agree to the required Bill. If so, the legislative process would have to start very soon, not least because the EU’s agreement would also be needed. After all, the ideal time to agree an extension would be the European Council on March 21. It would be best to agree the UK legislation several days before that.

MPs would first have to ensure that a Bill, a version of which has already been proposed, was debated. The Commons must then approve the Bill, which it could do in a day or two, and pass it over to the House of Lords.

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It is perfectly true that the Lords manages its business differently from the Commons. Bills are not subject to a timetable, no two stages of a Bill may be taken on the same day, peers can debate amendments at three, rather than two, stages of the Bill’s progress and filibustering is possible because of an absence of time limits on speeches.

But the Lords can change these arrangements if they need to. Standing order 46, which says that no two stages can be taken on the same day, can be suspended. What’s more, standing order 84 permits all stages of a Bill to be taken in one day if there is a national emergency.  

Unlike the Commons, the Lords do not give priority to government Bills. Given that a large majority of Lords have already rejected leaving with no deal, the votes are there to ensure the passage of the Bill in reasonable time.

Although amendments are permitted at three stages in the Lords, this would be a very short Bill which would limit the possibilities for amendment. In addition, Lords’ backbench speeches are informally limited to 15 minutes (see 4.36). When a member breaks that rule, they are generally called to order. If necessary, a motion “that the noble Lord be no longer heard” can be moved.

Finally, as in the Commons, Lords debates can be ended by moving a “closure” motion. Although such motions are rare, their potential deters filibustering.

It’s not possible to be precise about how long all this would take. But if MPs get cracking by the end of this month or early next month, there should be sufficient time to get legislation through the Lords and receive Royal Assent in time for the European summit.

That’s also the deadline ministers and MPs who don’t want us to crash out need to give the prime minister. They must not let her string them along.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

One Response to “Ministers must give PM firm deadline to ask for extra time”

  • See this article.
    http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/europe-leaders-should-suspend-brexit-deadline-by-anatole-kaletsky-2019-02

    The EU could consider amongst its 27 members and agree that, if asked, they would agree to an extension of Article 50 and do so formally by announcement. That way all of Theresa Mays attempts to run down the clock only matter on the UK clock. If we crash out, they blame would be squarely on the Tories- right where it belongs! Her attempts to slither away from anything that means anything would come to an end. Either Theresa May’s No Deal Brexit, or continued negotiations towards common sense, with all the time in the world to do it. The Tories would have to own this excrement as all their very own, and it would buy time for a final say vote.