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It is being reported in the press today that "rebels" opposed to Brexit "have drawn up an amendment that would allow a motion backed by a minority of 300 MPs to take precedence over government business". "This", they say, "would allow backbench MPs to propose plans blocking a no-deal Brexit". (Defiant John Bercow 'set to stay as speaker' by Toby Helms and Michael Savage; Observer 20/1/19).

It is reported slightly differently in the Sunday Times, in a way which leads me to think that a minority of 300 MPs could actually have a vote carried if those MPs belonged to five different parties.

Is it the case that 300 MPs from five parties can simply exercise a right to precedence so far as the Order Paper is concerned (per The Observer)? Or can a vote be carried by a minority of 300 as Tim Shipman in today's Sunday Times seems to be suggesting?

Shipman says in reference to "a group of more than 20 plotters, led by Grieve" that "their plan would need the support of 300 MPs - not even a majority - as long as they came from five different parties. Only 10 Tories would have to approve, making it all but impossible for May's team to thwart the plot". –

Personally I have never before heard of a minority being able to prevail over a majority in the House of Commons in any circumstances.

  • What would the UK Parliament be if they no only voted on motions of the Government and but also on motions of their own? Probably a lot more powerful. – Trilarion Jan 21 at 10:06
  • @Trilarion I agree with you, and support the idea of parliament being in control. However there are those who say the will of the people was expressed in a referendum in June 2016. And it is the duty of parliament to "honour" that vote by taking us out of the EU. – WS2 Jan 21 at 10:12
  • Of course you could say that, but that's not how the democracy in Britain works. Formally, the referendum result was non binding asking a very general question and MPs in Parliament which are also elected are free to vote the way they want. The duty of the Parliament is to do what the rules say what they should do which is doing the best for Britain. Maybe there should be binding referendums like in Switzerland, but that is another issue, I think. – Trilarion Jan 21 at 11:03
  • @Trilarion For the record I entirely agree with you. One thing that Aristotle, Plato, Edmund Burke and Margaret Thatcher all agreed about is that you cannot run a country by referendum. I am not one who regards the result of the 2016 vote as valid for all time. However, simply as a matter of practical politics, as well as of fairness I think any government must take account that the UK population is divided roughly 50-50 on the matter. Hence I believe that any deal entered into must reflect this fact and represent a compromise. – WS2 Jan 21 at 15:35
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The proposal, as reported by the BBC, is to allow backbench MPs to control one day of Parliamentary business a week. This would, of course, require a change to the rules of the House of Commons to be approved by a majority of MPs.

My understanding is that this rule change, if approved, would set a threshold of 300 MPs to put an item on the order paper on that day. Any motions put on the order paper in this way would, of course, require a majority of MPs to pass.

  • Ah! In that case Tim Shipman in The Sunday Times seems completely to have misunderstood the position. He says, in reference to "a group of more than 20 plotters, led by Grieve" that "their plan would need the support of 300 MPs - not even a majority - as long as they came from five different parties. Only 10 Tories would have to approve, making it all but impossible for May's team to thwart the plot". – WS2 Jan 20 at 20:24
  • @WS2 In this case, thwarting the plot would be preventing the vote. There are strong indications that most MPs dislike the option of no-deal, although things are much less clear as to what (if anything) parliament does support. This isn't exclusively MPs opposed to Brexit, but also those opposed to that flavour of Brexit. – origimbo Jan 20 at 21:28
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A good democracy respects minority rights.

Part of that is to give the minority a chance to get their issues debated and voted on in parliament, even if they do not have the votes to get it passed. This gives the minority a part in setting the public agenda, and a chance to put every legislator on the spot, voting for or against.

There are many different ways to make this possible. One is a question time, where any issue may be asked even if it isn't voted. Another is to let the opposition form investigative subcommittees. Or the parliament is allowed to set their own agenda in some fair allocation of speaking time.

While it sounds reasonable to give "government business" time in parliament, it isn't reasonable to give it all the time.

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    I suspect this is downvoted because it doesn't really answer the question. – user253751 Jan 21 at 8:06
  • @immibis, but why is it no answer? The question was why a minority motion could be scheduled before a government motion, and I pointed out that it is entirely reasonable to change the rules so that a minority motion will be heard sometime soon. – o.m. Jan 21 at 16:41
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    Based on the upvoted answer, it seems like a more concrete answer is what people are looking for. "They can do this because of this proposal" rather than "they can do this because a good democracy would do it" – user253751 Jan 21 at 21:27
  • As one of the downvoters, I can say that my reasoning was that the question asks "how" and this answers a more philosophic "why". It's mismatched to the question. – indigochild Jan 23 at 1:37

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