Can a no-deal Brexit be stopped now the PM has prorogued Parliament?
The sense of optimism for Remainers was short-lived this week.
No sooner had they managed to come together to agree a strategy for blocking a no-deal Brexit than Prime Minister Boris Johnson outmanoeuvred them by announcing he would be suspending Parliament.
The move effectively leaves Parliament dormant and MPs powerless to intervene between at least September 12 and the Queen’s Speech on October 14.
But does this spell the end of pro-Brussels campaigners’ hopes of stopping Mr Johnson from taking the UK out of the European Union without a deal?
Here is a look at some of the options left for opposition parties and rebel Conservatives to block no-deal, even with prorogation looming.
– Could a legal challenge work?
Gina Miller, the activist who famously defeated Theresa May’s government in the courts in 2016 over the then-prime minister’s decision to trigger Article 50 without MPs’ consent, is back in the limelight after Mr Johnson asked the Queen to prorogue Parliament next month.
Ms Miller, in a bid to stop what she dubbed an “anti-democratic” move, has asked judges to hear her lawyers’ case before September 9 – the earliest date the Prime Minister could suspend sittings.
The pro-EU campaigner said: “This is a brazen attempt, of truly historical magnitude, to prevent the executive being held accountable for its conduct before Parliament.”
Around 70 MPs have also joined anti-Brexit lawyer Jo Maugham QC in a bid to have a similar case heard in the Court of Session in Scotland to encourage judges to overturn the suspension request.
Constitutional expert Professor Meg Russell said Mr Johnson could be deemed to be acting “unconstitutionally”.
The director of the Constitution Unit at University College London said: “The United Kingdom has always had a political, not a legal, constitution. But that political constitution relies on key players respecting precedents and traditions.
“By ignoring precedent on this matter, particularly at a time of crisis, the Prime Minister is arguably acting unconstitutionally.”
If judges agree, they would have the power to step in.
– Will the anti-prorogation petition backed by one million people have any impact?
The online petition demanding Parliament “not be prorogued or dissolved” while Brexit is still on the cards has certainly attracted plenty of attention – 1.4 million signatures and counting as of Thursday.
But there was a similar fanfare over the Revoke Article 50 petition that received six million signatures and yet, beyond a bland response from ministers and a debate in Westminster Hall – MPs’ secondary debating chamber – not a lot came of it.
Having passed the 100,000 threshold, the anti-suspension petition will be considered for debate but, given it will not be put to a vote, it is unlikely to stop Parliament being suspended in its own right.
– What can MPs do to stop it?
Beyond seeking legal recourse – which some are already doing – not a lot. But those opposed to a no-deal Brexit are vowing to go ahead with their plans to halt any attempt to leave without a deal by bringing forward their own legislation before Mr Johnson orders everyone out of the building.
Barry Gardiner, Labour’s shadow international trade secretary, said opposition MPs would be seeking an emergency debate – known formally as a Standing Order Section 24 debate – on Parliament’s return next week to begin proceedings for a law to scupper no-deal.
He admitted that, after the Prime Minister’s decision to suspend sittings next month, it would be “extremely difficult” to get the legislation through in time.
Bills usually take a year to pass onto the statute books but, in exceptional cases, laws have been passed in two days, albeit with Government support.
If prorogation goes ahead, there will be 18 sitting days between September 3 and the Brexit deadline of October 31.
“We will seek to try and put through the appropriate legislation in this constrained timetable that the Government has now put before us,” Mr Gardiner said.
– Is there a last resort to stop a no-deal Brexit?
There is, and Labour said it is prepared to enact it – a vote of no confidence in the Government.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell confirmed a no-confidence motion was “on the table” as an option.
Theresa May survived when opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn called for a no-confidence motion in her government after she lost the first vote on the Withdrawal Agreement by a historic margin.
But Mr McDonnell said the decision to suspend Parliament could encourage Tories who stayed loyal to Mrs May to cross the floor and vote down their Government next time round.
“I think in some ways what he (the Prime Minister) has done is mobilised the majority of the House now,” said the Hayes and Harlington MP.
“We already have a majority to defeat no deal and I think these dictatorial actions increase that majority against no deal but also to reclaim the sovereignty of Parliament itself.”
If the shadow cabinet member has his numbers right, then a vote of no confidence could collapse the Government and, if no party can command a working majority, then Parliament will be dissolved for a general election.
It would be an extreme strategy but it could prove to be the only way of preventing a no-deal Brexit, and arguably give Mr Johnson what he wants, the opportunity to win a fresh Tory majority.