EXPLAINER-Can Britain's parliament stop a no-deal Brexit?


Several of the contenders to replace Prime Minister Theresa May have said Britain should leave the European Union on Oct. 31, even if that means a "no-deal" Brexit.

By William James and Kylie MacLellan

LONDON, June 12 (Reuters) - Several of the contenders to replace Prime Minister Theresa May have said Britain should leave the European Union on Oct. 31, even if that means a "no-deal" Brexit.

So can British lawmakers do anything to stop the country leaving the bloc without a transition deal?

May has resigned to let someone else work out the way forward on Brexit, but her successor will be bound by most of the same constraints that saw her fail three times to get parliamentary ratification for a deal.

Votes so far this year show there is no single plan that commands a majority in parliament, which is still arguing over when, how, and even whether, Britain should follow through on the public's decision in a 2016 referendum to leave the EU.

However, there has been majority agreement in parliament against leaving the bloc without an exit agreement defining interim arrangements on issues like customs and citizens' rights.

So, if the next prime minister is unable to break the deadlock in parliament or decides to actively target a no-deal exit, what could lawmakers do to prevent a no-deal departure?


Elected members of the 650-seat parliament have a number of ways of expressing their opinion, but few of those have the power to force the government to change course.

Those opposed to a no-deal exit could seek an emergency debate, or use debating time allocated to opposition parties to vote on a motion expressing their view.

If supported by a majority this would create political pressure for a government rethink, but would not bind the prime minister to change policy.


If a majority in parliament want to stop a no-deal exit without the government's support, they will need to change the law to somehow prevent it - by demanding that the prime minister either delay the exit or cancel Brexit altogether.

Earlier this year lawmakers found a way to seize control of the parliamentary agenda and passed a law, despite government opposition, that mandated May to seek more time from the EU.

This alone would not have prevented a no deal, as the EU has to agree to any extension. Only legislating to revoke the Article 50 exit notification would stop Brexit happening.

Ultimately, May decided she would seek an extension anyway, which resulted in the new departure date of Oct. 31, but it showed lawmakers can find ways to impose their will if they have a majority.

A fresh attempt to take control of the parliamentary agenda was rejected by a vote of 309-298 on June 12, but opponents have vowed to keep trying.

If the government was actively pursuing a no-deal strategy, lawmakers would not be able to hijack the legislative process to pass their own law and would need to come up with an alternative way to stop it.

While there is little precedent for this, parliamentary rules have proven flexible in recent months and speaker John Bercow, who wields considerable influence over procedural matters, has been supportive of attempts to block no deal.

Two of the candidates to replace May have mooted the possibility of suspending parliament to force through a no-deal exit. That has provoked widespread criticism from all parties, including rival leadership candidates.


Parliament has the power to collapse the government through a vote of no confidence. This would require some Conservatives, or the allied Democratic Unionist Party, to rebel.

One lawmaker, former attorney general Dominic Grieve, said he would be prepared to give up his allegiance to the Conservative Party and vote against the government to stop a no-deal exit.

While losing a confidence vote would halt policymaking and almost certainly force a change in leadership, it would not automatically change the legal fact that Britain will cease to be an EU member on Oct. 31.

Preventing a no deal would still require action by a successor government, appointed either after a general election or by the formation of a new governing coalition in parliament.

FACTBOX-What have the candidates to succeed UK PM May said about Brexit?

Britain's Hunt says pursuing no-deal Brexit would be 'political suicide'

(Editing by Frances Kerry)

((william.james@thomsonreuters.com; +44 207 542 3374; Reuters Messaging: william.james.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.


Reuters, the news and media division of Thomson Reuters, is the world’s largest international multimedia news provider reaching more than one billion people every day. Reuters provides trusted business, financial, national, and international news to professionals via Thomson Reuters desktops, the world's media organizations, and directly to consumers at Reuters.com and via Reuters TV.

Learn More