MPs are gearing up what may be their final chance to block a no-deal Brexit, after Boris Johnson announced his intention to suspend Parliament for most of September and October.
Opposition parties have collectively issued a statement accusing the prime minister of “undemocratic actions” in shutting down Parliament with, they say, “the sole aim” of excluding MPs from the Brexit endgame.
Government whip Lord Young has resigned in protest against the prorogation – due to begin between 9 and 12 September – arguing that it risks “undermining the fundamental role of Parliament”, reports the BBC.
Ruth Fox, director of independent parliamentary research group the Hansard Society, says the suspension is “significantly longer than we would normally have” and will “potentially halve” the number of days that MPs have to scrutinise the Government’s Brexit plans.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell insists that he believes Parliament will still be able to stop a no-deal Brexit but that nobody should “underestimate” how difficult this may prove.
A number of MPs are reportedly trying to buy more time by looking for ways to ensure Parliament can meet on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday before Johnson’s planned suspension.
Meanwhile, staunch Brexiteer and Conservative Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg has dismissed public expressions of anger over the prorogation as “phoney”.
“The candyfloss of outrage we’ve had over the last 24 hours, which I think is almost entirely confected, is from people who never wanted to leave the European Union,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
So what could the next week bring for Brexit? Here are the possible scenarios:
Corbyn calls for vote of no-confidence
MPs could pass a vote of no-confidence in Johnson’s government.
As The New York Times notes, the PM’s almost-unprecedented use of prorogation has “galvanised his opponents into action”, possibly creating an anti-Johnson majority.
If he lost a vote of confidence, a new government would have to be formed within two weeks or a general election called.
The problem then would be “that opposition leaders cannot agree on a caretaker prime minister”, says the newspaper. “Jeremy Corbyn, the natural choice as leader of the Labour Party, is too left-wing, and as a lifelong critic of the European Union, is distrusted by determined opponents of Brexit.”
Instead, MPs could rally behind a centrist figure, such as veteran Conservative Ken Clarke, but that would require Labour MPs – including the leadership – to back a Tory for PM despite having just ousted one.
And even if Johnson lost a no-confidence motion, he could refuse to resign immediately and schedule an election for after the Halloween Brexit deadline, effectively forcing a no-deal. Although this would certainly be attacked as deeply undemocratic by all but his most loyal supporters, there is nothing in the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act to ban him from doing so.
If Labour put forward a no-confidence motion and it failed to pass, nothing would technically change. However, that outcome would be likely to embolden Johnson in fresh efforts to push the UK to the brink of no-deal in his attempt to wrest concessions from Brussels.
MPs vote to block no-deal
Despite Johnson’s planned prorogation, MPs still have time to take control of the parliamentary timetable and schedule a vote on legislation forcing the PM to request another Article 50 extension, a move that could prevent no-deal temporarily at least.
Corbyn has said that opposition MPs will start the process of attempting to pass a law blocking a no-deal Brexit when Parliament returns on Tuesday, reports The Sun.
“We believe we can do it, otherwise we wouldn’t be trying to do it,” the Labour leader told reporters during a visit to Scotland this week.
However, even if Parliament successfully legislated against no-deal, Johnson could call an October election and frame his campaign as a People vs. Parliament stand-off.
Legal challenge succeeds in preventing prorogation
Scotland’s top civil court is considering a legal challenge by a group of 75 MPs to the suspension of Parliament.
The judge hearing the case, Lord Doherty, has brought forward the date of the hearing from Friday to Tuesday. His verdict could potentially be delivered the following day.
However, the courts have no power to interfere with the Crown prerogative to suspend Parliament if requested by a government, so unless Johnson himself asks the Queen to reverse her approval, the prorogation would still go ahead.
Pro-EU campaigner Gina Miller has made a separate application to the Supreme Court seeking permission for a judicial review of the PM’s decision, according to the BBC.
And former Tory leader John Major has also pledged to seek a judicial review of Johnson’s prorogation, saying he would like to join Miller’s action.
The UK could still leave the European Union with a deal, although that would require a quick breakthrough in the lengthy stalemate over the Irish backstop.
Johnson could also seek an extension from Brussels, although this would represent a potentially career-sinking U-turn on his vow to lead the UK out of the EU on 31 October come what may.
Failing all else, the default position is that the UK will crash out of the EU without a deal in two months’ time.