Sensible MPs and ministers must get us extra time

by Luke Lythgoe | 02.04.2019

With the UK set to crash out on April 12, the priority now is to secure another dose of extra time. Labour’s Yvette Cooper has drafted emergency legislation to do just that. It would force the prime minister to ask the other 27 EU countries for an extension, and give MPs significant sway over how long it should be. Politicians in all parties should back it.

Cooper’s bill places the onus on the prime minister to propose how much extra time to ask for. But MPs can also change that date if they wish. The prime minister must then ask the other EU countries for however much extra time the House of Commons approves. That would presumably happen at next week’s summit on April 10.

If the EU leaders agree, great. If they ask for a different date, that goes back to MPs the following day, i.e. April 11, for approval. In other words, just in the nick of time.

It’s not a flawless solution. Between the prime minister, Parliament and the EU, something could fall through the cracks.

For example, Cooper’s bill face hurdles in Parliament. First, MPs need to agree that it will be rushed through the Commons. The idea is to do that tomorrow.

Provided MPs agree the legislation, it then needs to get through the House of Lords. Perhaps that will happen on Friday. But there’s a risk it could get bogged down in the Lords, as it may be harder to rush things through there than in the Commons.

After that, the bill needs Royal Assent. So long as it does, the prime minister is required the same day to come back with her motion proposing how much extra time to ask for. That gives just enough time for everything to be done in advance of next week’s summit.

Despite these hurdles, you have to assume most sensible politicians are now looking to avoid “no deal”, and Cooper’s bill gives them the tools to do so. It’s a practical solution to a potentially existential problem facing our country in the next few days.

Of course, a move like this doesn’t have to come from emergency legislation. It would be better if it comes directly from the government. If the prime minister herself isn’t willing to take the initiative, sensible Cabinet ministers should threaten to resign to force her hand. The time for keeping their powder dry is surely over.

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The planned timing of the emergency legislation was updated shortly after publication

Edited by Hugo Dixon

2 Responses to “Sensible MPs and ministers must get us extra time”

  • This seems to me a wrong turn – very likely to run into a procedural bog.

    I would much prefer it if sensible MPs had continued to negotiate behind the scenes to achieve a successful indicative vote on Weds (ideally to ask the EU for an extension on the basis of a ‘softer’ Brext – or the WA alone – subject to a confirmatory vote).

  • Well, the PM is still running down the clock, mow in the hope that the EU says “enough is enough” and we crash out. She will then retire, blaming parliament and specifically Labour for crashing out. This will keep the Tory party intact bar a handful of awkward lefties like Boles, Grieve, Soubry, Wollaston et al. They will vanish at the next election.