Brexit: Government may ignore result of indicative votes process, says Hancock – live news

There are lots of good questions BTL. Here are some I think I can answer helpfully.

Why are the European Research Group so influential?

Because they represent up to around 80 Tory MPs (they don’t release precise membership numbers, and some MPs are more fully aligned with them than others anyway) and Theresa May needs their support to win votes. All political parties are coalitions, and all party leaders need to take account of what their MPs. What makes the ERG unusual is that they are particularly well organised; they run an effective press operation, and they operate an informal ERG whip. They are also extremely committed to their cause. Or fanatical, as their critics would claim.

Does parliament have to approve a decision to hold European elections?

For the European elections to take place, returning officers would have to publish notice of the poll by 12 April, and the government would have to name the date of the poll by order (ie, by a piece of secondary legislation that would normally get approved without a division.) That is why the EU has only agreed an extension until 12 April, unless the withdrawal agreement gets passed. It will not allow the UK to extend beyond that point unless it agrees to participate in the elections.

Could the EU negotiate with parliament instead of Theresa May?

No. It has to negotiate with a prime minister and a government. It cannot negotiate with Oliver Letwin, or John Bercow, or Yvette Cooper, not least because they cannot sign international agreements on behalf of the UK state.

Is there enough time for parliament to find a plan B?

Good question. There is not much time. Under the article 50 extension agreed by the EU last week, if the PM’s deal does not pass this week, the UK has until 12 April to come up with a new plan or face no deal.

Could the indicative vote process produce an answer before 12 April. In theory, yes, although there is no guarantee that it will?

And would any softer Brexit automatically involve a longer extension? Not necessarily. If the Commons, and then the government, were to agree a Norway-style Brexit, that could be facilitated through changes to the political declaration that would be drafted very quickly. The withdrawal agreement would not need to change. So it is possible that the Commons could vote before 12 April, and it is possible that the EU could then reactivate its offer of an extension until 22 May.

But there are a lot of ifs in this proposition. Despite what Jacob Rees-Mogg is saying (see 10.36am), no deal by accident must remain a possibility.

Could the government be held in contempt of parliament if it ignores the indicative votes?

The government cannot be held in contempt of parliament just for ignoring a motion passed by parliament. It happens quite often these days, when opposition day motions get passed. (In the past the government always used to contest these, but now it often abstains, and chooses to take no notice.) The issue of contempt only comes into play if the government ignores a motion specifically requiring it to do something, such as the motion calling for Brexit legal advice to be published.

But, as part of the indicative votes process, a motion could be passed requiring the government to respond. Ministers would be in contempt if they ignored that, but that might just lead to a motion being passed finding the government in contempt that would have no automatic practical impact. To force the government to comply with indicative votes, Oliver Letwin and his colleagues would probably need to pass legislation.

Who would benefit most from a general election?

This is a very good question which I have included not because I know the answer – I’m not sure anyone does – but because HistoryOfRob frames it well, and it is a query preoccupying a lot of people at Westminster. My assumption would be that, if no deal really is a disaster, the government will get the blame. Some polling supports that. But, given the large number of people who favour no deal, who can be sure?

I’m off to the lobby briefing now. I will post again after 12.30pm.


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