Boris Johnson is unlikely to be able to secure a new agreement from Brussels and push it through Parliament by October 31, the Institute for Government (IFG) said. But MPs who want to stop Britain leaving on that date if a settlement has not been reached have virtually run out of time and options, according to the think tank. Joe Owen, IFG Brexit programme director, said: “MPs looking to force the Government into a change of approach face a huge challenge when Parliament returns.
“Even if they can assemble a majority for something, they may find few opportunities to make their move – and time is running out.”
Remainer MPs deployed a series of little-known or used parliamentary procedures to tie Theresa May’s hands over Brexit in the run-up to the original March 29 departure date.
Government control of Commons business means it would be difficult for MPs to repeat the process that led to a law being passed in March that required the then Prime Minister to seek an extension, according to the IFG.
The report also said Parliament’s power over the Brexit process depended on specific clauses set out in the EU Withdrawal Act that no longer apply.
It required the Commons to endorse any deal in a “meaningful vote” or hold further votes if the government wanted to leave without a deal, but the demands were tied to a specific date – January 21 – which has long since passed.
“It is now of no use to MPs who want to express their view on no deal; if Johnson is set on no deal he will not need to schedule any further meaningful votes,” the report said.
MPs could use opposition day debates or backbench business motions to express their opposition to a no-deal but the results would not be binding and would lack “legal teeth”, it added.
A vote of no confidence would not necessarily stop no deal and there is little time to hold a general election before 31 October, the IFG said.
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However, Mr Cummings has reportedly advised Mr Johnson he could delay polling day until after October 31, by which time Britain would be out of the EU.
The report acknowledged such a tactic may be possible although it would be highly contentious.
“Any attempt by a Prime Minister who has just lost a no confidence vote and so, by convention, is acting only in a caretaker capacity to use their powers in this way would be hugely controversial, both politically and constitutionally,” it said.
If MPs did succeed in forming an alternative government, the new Prime Minister would still need to go to Brussels to seek another Brexit extension and the EU would have to approve it, all with time rapidly running out.