The Guardian, UK: MPs seeking to take steps to prevent a no-deal Brexit have lost a Commons vote by 309 votes to 298 – a majority of 11 – in a boost to Conservative leadership contenders such as Boris Johnson who are hoping to force the UK’s exit from the EU by 31 October.
The cross-party motion would have given MPs time to begin to pass legislation that may have significantly constrained a future prime minister, but Labour sources said they feared would-be Tory rebels had preferred to hold their fire until they see which candidate was installed.
The vote followed a debate in the House of Commons led by the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, who urged MPs to back the cross-party effort, calling it a “safety valve”, so MPs can begin legislation to stop a new prime minister suspending parliament.
Speaking before the crunch vote on giving MPs control of the parliamentary agenda on 25 June, Starmer said MPs had to seize the opportunity to grant themselves time to stop a no-deal Brexit.
The motion proposed giving MPs control of the parliamentary agenda in a fortnight’s time. That day could then potentially be used to begin legislation to prevent the UK from leaving the EU without a deal – though it is still uncertain what form that would take.
Starmer said MPs were forced to act because of suggestions from leadership candidates including Johnson and Dominic Raab that the UK will leave – come what may – on 31 October, with Raab even suggesting he would be prepared to prorogue parliament to stop MPs efforts to thwart no deal.
“If the next prime minister is foolish enough to try to pursue a no-deal Brexit without gaining the consent of this house, or to try to prorogue parliament in order to force through no deal, then parliament will have the means to prevent that,” he told MPs.
“It will introduce a safety valve in the Brexit process and it will be a reminder to all Conservative leadership candidates that this house will take every step necessary to prevent a no deal.”
The motion, which Labour tabled during Wednesday’s opposition day debate, has the backing of the former Conservative minister Oliver Letwin and the leaders of the Scottish National party, Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens.
Opening the debate, Starmer said, if passed, MPs could use 25 June, to “set out a schedule for the stages of a parliamentary bill relating to our departure from the EU”. He said the motion did not set out the form of legislation or prevent the government from starting to pass a Brexit deal.
“It is a first and limited step to ensure parliament cannot be locked out of the Brexit process over the coming weeks and months,” he said. “It paves the way for parliament to take further action including to prevent no deal, should the house consider that necessary.”
The Brexit secretary, Steve Barclay, said it was a “blind motion” that gave no indication what path MPs would try to pursue to block no deal, saying it would have “virtually unlimited scope”.
Tory MPs who said they intended to back the plan include Antoinette Sandbach, Dominic Grieve, Sam Gyimah, Jonathan Djanogly and the former Conservative Nick Boles, who has flown back to the UK specifically to vote on the motion.
Gyimah said there were “two principles at stake” – the right of the government to control the parliamentary agenda and whether the government could prorogue parliament in pursuit of its policy objectives, including involving the Queen.
“I believe the latter of those two principles is the weightier one, the one we should be bearing in mind as we vote today,” he said.
MPs working cross-party believed it was essential to take the opportunity to begin efforts to stop no deal before the next prime minister is installed and before the start of the summer recess.
The Conservatives will whip against the motion, Downing Street confirmed on Wednesday, meaning ministers who oppose no deal would need to resign in order to support it. Theresa May’s spokesman said it would set an “uncomfortable and troubling” precedent.