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Theresa May must pass law to stop no-deal Brexit before she leaves, former cabinet minister warns

May 26, 2019 2:48 PM
By Andrew Woodcock Political Editor @andywoodcock in The Independent

Ed DaveySir Ed Davey warns hard Brexit PM could stop parliament from sitting to prevent MPs blocking no-deal withdrawal

Theresa May must use the dying days of her premiership to pass a law to prevent her successor taking Britain out of the EU in a no-deal Brexit against the will of parliament, a former cabinet minister has said.

Sir Ed Davey said Ms May was likely to be followed into No 10 by a hardline Brexiteer, such as Boris Johnson or Dominic Raab, who is ready to quit Europe without an agreement on 31 October.

MPs have already voted by a majority of 43 against a no-deal outcome, but that motion was not binding on the government.

Sir Ed said it was "a genuine worry" that a prime minister seeking to achieve a no-deal exit could simply suspend parliamentary sittings through a process known as "prorogation" until the Halloween deadline has passed in order to avoid MPs staging another vote to prevent it.

Under UK and EU law, Britain will leave without a deal by default on the deadline of Halloween unless a fresh extension is approved, a withdrawal agreement is ratified on both sides or the Article 50 letter informing Brussels of its intention to quit is revoked.

The former energy secretary - who is thought likely to be a contender to succeed Sir Vince Cable in the upcoming contest for Liberal Democrat leader - told The Independent: "There is a lot I disagree with Theresa May on, but I believe that she is a responsible person who wants to do what is right for the national interest.

"I think she needs to recognise the danger to our country of a future Tory prime minister who is a no-deal Leaver.

"And she needs to use the remaining powers she has in the remaining days she has left to help the majority in parliament insulate our country from that danger."

Prorogation marks the end of a parliamentary session and is normally followed by a short recess until the Queen's Speech that opens the next session. There is no fixed timetable, leaving the timing in the government's hands. The current session, which began after the 2017 election is already the longest for many centuries, after Ms May stretched it to the limits in the hope of getting her Brexit deal through.

With the new prime minister expected to be installed in No 10 just days before MPs leave Westminster for their summer break in July, and with a further three-week break for party conferences in late September and early October, parliament is anyway scheduled to sit for only a few weeks under the new regime before the Halloween deadline.

Sir Ed said he was concerned that a no-deal prime minister, elected by a deeply anti-EU Tory membership of around 125,000, could use prorogation to ensure that MPs are not present in Westminster to stop them driving the country over the cliff-edge.

"This is a genuine worry," he told The Independent. "I think people from across parties ought to put pressure on the PM to put forward a piece of legislation as prime minister to put into law that there can't be an exit from the EU of any nature without a vote in parliament.

"We have to have a procedure to prevent a no-deal Brexit being imposed on our country by a small number of MPs from a party with a leader who has effectively been elected prime minister by a very, very small and unrepresentative portion of our country."

He called for cross-party talks to draw up and pass legislation in the few weeks left to Ms May.

And he said that the prime minister would be able to push such a bill through with the support of Liberal Democrat votes as well as many Labour and Tory MPs who fear no-deal.

"I think there needs to be some good cross-party talks," he said.

"I would prefer legislation to go through which would require a People's Vote on any final outcome, with the option of Remain on the ballot paper.

"But I think she should at least work across parties to put a law in place that would prevent any government taking Britain out of the EU without a parliamentary vote on that proposition, so it would be impossible for a no-deal Leaver to prorogue parliament and say we are going whether you like it or not."