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My understanding of the Benn Bill is that it only compels the PM to request an extension and what must be done if an extension is granted.

If an extension isn't granted, is it true that neither the government nor parliament have any options available to prevent a no-deal exit?

Edit: I guess the framing of the question wasn't very clear. The Benn Bill was intended to prevent a no-deal exit from happening, but it doesn't do anything to prevent that if an extension isn't granted?

  • Hello digitalPhonix! Welcome to Politics.SE. Please read the tour page to help you along. – isakbob Sep 19 at 0:33
  • One thing is "not having options available", another is "the Benn Bill not doing anything to prevent". I responded before the edit as to options that are available, despite certainly not being mandated by the Bill in case of rejection of an extension. – LjL Sep 19 at 20:50
  • The headline and the question ask two different things - yes if no extension is offered the Benn bill is irrelevant however there are options Parliament has to stop a "no-deal" Brexit e.g. by passing further legislation. – Alan Dev Sep 20 at 9:48
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Revoking Art. 50 is something that the government can do unilaterally, according to the Court of Justice of the European Union. It would likely have to come from the PM, as Parliament alone cannot negotiate with the European Union, but presumably, Parliament could pass a bill requiring government to revoke Art. 50. Whether the government would respect such a bill seems hard to tell at the moment.

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    +1, but it's also hard to tell whether Parliament would pass such a revocation bill; it would go much further than the extension (Benn) bill they passed. – Fizz Sep 19 at 0:51
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    IIRC correctly, the ruling did that such a revocation had to be made in good faith. Determining good or bad faith can be complicated, but I find it difficult for it to be considered in good faith if it just aims to invoke article 50 again at a later, relatively near date. – SJuan76 Sep 19 at 8:39
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    @SJuan76 new elections would mean that any change in position would have to be considered good faith. So Article 50 being revoked in good faith by a majority of the current parliament, would not preclude it being resubmitted by a new parliament with a different mandate. So as little as a 5 week gap would suffice for good faith. – Jontia Sep 19 at 9:26
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    @Jontia: That is one interpretation of "good faith". Another interpretation would be that a revocation is "in good faith" when there is no foreseeable event that would lead to Article 50 being invoked again. If there is a real possibility of such an event, the proper action is to extend the withdrawal date. That is after all how the Brexit date was moved to Oct 31. – MSalters Sep 19 at 15:29
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    @MSalters Unless there is a specific legal definition of "good faith" laying around somewhere (is there?), then the common lay definition should be used. If the government honestly and sincerely intends to revoke, knowledge that they could potentially be prevented from revoking or that someone else may later un-revoke against their wishes, does not stop it from being a good faith intention. "Good faith" doesn't require a guarantee of success--it is all about intention. Knowing that their intentions may not come to fruition is more about practicality than good/bad faith. – GrandOpener Sep 19 at 22:19
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Note: See answer from @jonita the EU Parliment have agreed to offer an extension if asked for one. So the original question is asking about something that will not happen. However, here's a few notes on this hypothetic scenario

The Bill http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2019/26/enacted does not mention what will happen if the request for an extension is rejected and does not mention revoking article 50 either

The request for an extension must be made by the 19th of October. If it is turned down then Parliament would have to pass other legislation that revoked Article 50 before the exit deadline of October 31st

If nothing else is passed by Parliament then the UK will leave the EU on the 31st of October

Parliament is currently prorogued until Oct 14th - the court case to try and stop this may be resolved tomorrow (Fri 20th Sept) early next week so it's conceivable that Parliament will be back next week. However, under current circumstances, Parliament has this short window of opportunity

This excellent graphic from the bbc shows the schedule

schedule for Parliament leading up to Brexit

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    While the EU Parliament has some influence in this matter, it has no power to grant an extension; that lies entirely with the European Council. So the question remains valid. – Steve Melnikoff Sep 19 at 12:12
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    Comments deleted. Please don't use comments to ask or answer followup questions which are not specifically about a point raised in the answer. If you would like to ask a new question, please do so with the "Ask Question" button. – Philipp Sep 19 at 16:56
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    Just to add to what @SteveMelnikoff wrote, it would take just one member state to veto an extension request. So the statement in this answer that "the original question is asking about something that will not happen" is completely incorrect. Indeed theoretically the UK could veto the extension request (albeit it would breach the so-called Benn Bill, but if the PM is willing to risk it then it is within his ability to do so). – JBentley Sep 20 at 16:30
  • Most of what @JBentley wrote is correct except for the bit about the UK being able to veto its own extension; we had a question on that recently on Politics.SE. – Jan Sep 24 at 6:58
  • @Jan If you are referring to the fact that the Benn Bill requires the PM not to veto it, I already covered that. If there is some other reason you think the UK cannot veto its own extension, I would be grateful if you could link the other question here. – JBentley Sep 24 at 11:43
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If the extension is rejected there are two options available to Parliament.

  1. Pass a law forcing the PM to revoke Article 50.

  2. Pass a motion of no confidence in the government, form an alternative caretaker government, revoke Article 50 and then call a General Election.

In both cases there is very limited time to do this. However, the EU is today reported to have given the Johnson government 12 days to produce a concrete proposal for a deal, so it may be clear by the end of September if they intend to go for no-deal as the preferred option or not. Today the Supreme Court is also deciding if the current prorogation is legal, so Parliament may have a little more time to resolve this.

  • Is there any (UK) law that would prevent a government from revoking Article 50 (without the approval of parliament)? – digitalPhonix Sep 19 at 19:21
  • @digitalPhonix: I don't think that's a fair way to frame the debate at this point. The existing law requires an extension, which is unfeasible as of today. – Joshua Sep 19 at 19:43
  • @digitalPhonix I don't think so. The UK doesn't have a formal constitution covering stuff like this, just convention, so all sorts of stuff is possible. – user Sep 20 at 8:30
  • No country can pass a law "forcing" any person to do anything. The only legal recourse is to punish them if they disobey the law. – alephzero Sep 20 at 12:43
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    Just to be pedantic, you wouldn't "revoke Article 50". Doing that would require treaty change, and would need the unanimous agreement of all member states. You would revoke the notice that was served in accordance with Article 50. For some reason the former has entered into common usage in the media, but it is nonsense from a legal perspective! – JBentley Sep 20 at 16:34
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While the accepted answer refers to revoking Article 50, another option available to parliament would be to pass the bill for the treaty already offered by the EU. While it has been rejected several times, a new session of parliament means that there are fewer barriers for it to be put to the vote again.

Technically this is similar to the situation if the EU offers any amended deal in the meantime.


So legally Parliament was NOT prorogued. As such, it becomes harder to have a fourth vote on the same bill in the same session. (A change was required to allow the third vote). If the EU don't make some change to their offer, then the Speaker will not allow parliament to vote again on accepting the offer.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parliamentary_votes_on_Brexit#Third_%22meaningful_vote%22_(29_March_2019)

  • To nitpick, the current negotiation positions mean it is the UK that needs to offer a specific change not the EU. The EU have a Withdrawl Agreement they are happy with that the UK executive (At the time) were happy with as well. The UK as the party to the agreement that ultimately are now unhappy with those terms are the ones that need to suggest something else. – Jontia Sep 25 at 6:22
  • @Jontia The point I was making is that the UK government is no longer in a position to even put the existing offer that to a Parliamentary vote again. Regardless of whether the UK government or EU initiates a change in the offer, the EU have to accept that change before the UK Parliament can consider it. – Gary Myers Sep 25 at 23:45
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To slightly challenge the frame of the question.

It should be noted that the EU parliament has voted to grant an extension if requested.

The European Parliament continues to support an “orderly Brexit” based on the already negotiated Withdrawal Agreement, MEPs reaffirmed in the resolution adopted today with 544 votes in favour, 126 against and 38 abstentions.

While it is the European Council (The heads of state) that have to actually accept the extension request, the support of the EU parliament will undoubtedly factor into their thinking.

The full text of the vote is available here and the relevant portion is point 25.

  1. Indicates that it would support an extension of the period provided for in Article 50 if there are reasons and a purpose for such an extension (such as to avoid a ‘no-deal exit’, to hold a general election or a referendum, to revoke Article 50, or to approve a withdrawal agreement) and that the work and functioning of the EU institutions are not adversely affected;

In addition to the above which means the Benn Bill is likely to have the desired outcome it should be noted that being forced by the bill to ask for the extension is itself enough to ensure the bill remains relevant. Johnson's entire public position hinges on not being willing to extend the deadline. The Benn Bill will remain relevant either as a tool that demonstrates the weakness of Johnson's position or a a weapon in Johnson's people vs parliament strategy going into the next election.

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    @Vorsprung but it explains why the question (almost certainly) isn't relevant. That is the nature of a frame challenge. – Jontia Sep 19 at 10:14
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    This, I am afraid to say, is fake news. It's probably not your fault because like every EU decision/statement, it's 2,700 words of gibberish crap that nobody can understand followed by 3 sentences that actually say something but that nobody can understand either upon first reading. However, what the EU really said (TA-9-2019-0016) is, in simple words, that they are supportive (effectively means "blah blah") but will not proceed with a consent vote until UK has made an agreement. That's really the opposite of "EU has voted to grant". – Damon Sep 19 at 12:02
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    @Vorsprung & Jontia: while the EU Parliament has some influence in this matter, it has no power to grant an extension; that lies entirely with the European Council. So the question remains valid. – Steve Melnikoff Sep 19 at 12:11
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    @SteveMelnikoff I agree, and I believe I addressed that point in the answer. Given the major and ongoing criticisms about the lack of influence of directly elected representatives I think the council will be strongly inclined to follow their lead here to avoid bringing the "democratic deficit" of the EU back into the headlines again. – Jontia Sep 19 at 12:19
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    @Jontia Given that the European Council has showed strong resistance to any increase of the influence of the European Parliament in the past, and that I cannot see mentions of a democratic deficit outside of the British media, I am inclined to think they'll happily ignore the European Parliament's opinion on this (which is not the same thing as to say they'll refuse an extension). – Denis Nardin Sep 19 at 12:23
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Nobody can tell for certain, obviously, but it may be very irrelevant, as much as the original referendum was, or as any future referendum or such may be.

What is relevant first and foremost is that following Miller vs. Secretary of State, the Parliament passed an act, and with that the "constitutional proceedings" as per Art. 50 were met. What's relevant, too, is that Art. 50 was then invoked. So that's done and it is binding, and the clock has been ticking since.

What matters now is that on October 31, the extension-extension ends, and if no other extension has been granted and if Johnson has not revoked Brexit until then, it means that UK is out, no deal, end of story.
That is what currently matters. Everything else is just talk.

While the EU parliament has stated that they are favourable towards an extension (if there is a good reason, and if... blah blah) they don't even have a say in it, so that statement is rather worthless. Even if Johnson asks for another extension (which I think he cannot afford politically), it is not sure that it will be granted. Among those who do have a say in the matter, there have been several who, unless they do a 180° U-turn, are opposed to it, and it needs to be an unanimous vote. So, who knows, it's nowhere near certain.

As for withdrawal, Johnson can only revoke "in accordance with constitutional requirements blah blah", so another act would be necessary. Slightly under two weeks time for that, might be a bit tight, but generally possible as a desperate last-minute move. Except...

The question is, will Johnson do it? He might as well show everybody the middle finger, and what are you going to do about it? There's not much you can do. Oh yes, the parliament passed a bill. A nice little bill, voted on democratically, and written nicely on a worthless piece of paper. The rule of law, right.

Criminal proceedings against the Queen as well as Her Majesty's Government are prohibited. Which, if I understand correctly, means as much as: That bill is worth about as much as a piece of toilet paper, and Boris Johnson might as well use it for that purpose. Not sure if he is protected from being prosecuted for doing that, too, but I guess he is.

As a fun fact (again, if I understand correctly), the UK parliament on the other hand side does not seem to have immunity at all in the UK (only as far as civil action goes, and only for libel/slander) as they do in other countries. So they can be criminally prosecuted, which is kinda funny.

Be that as it may, Boris Johnson is a part of Her Majesty's Government. So... there is a law, and if Johnson just feels like he cannot be bothered to follow that law... well. So what. What are you going to do about it?
He is required to let the Queen sign stuff. Let's say he doesn't. He is required to find an agreement with the EU or failing to do so ask for an extension. He is required to provide status updates. If the parliament passes a "let's withdraw last minute" act, he is required to hand in the note.
Let's say he doesn't get an agreement, and doesn't ask for (or get) an extension. Let's say he lies about it in his status reports. Let's say the parliament decides "withdraw" the last moment, and he simply doesn't hand in the papers. My dog ate my homework, my car broke down, or anything excuse you like. He might even outright tell everybody: Yeah, I didn't feel like it. I told you, deal or no deal, we're out!

What now? Well, sue him. Jail him. Oh wait, you can't. What are you going to do? Have him resign. Oh teh noes, what a harsh penalty. Also, even if you could sue him, what would it change? Deadline past is deadline past. It simply doesn't matter whom you blame, whom you sue, or how you complain about it, once you've established facts.

The situation that a single man can just do what he wants and the state can't do anything is not as kafkaesque as it may seem (well it is, but it's nevertheless real). Rule of law? That's an illusion.
Remember Helmut Kohl, who back in the old days (around 1980-90?) replied to a court order which compelled him to reveal information about some huge sum of black money that had been found simply with "Ha ha ha, I'll not tell you anything". And that was just the end of the story. How many days did he spend in prison? Zero. Did he resign? No. Did it hurt his political career? No. Did it hurt the career of his protégé? No.
Guess what Boris Johnson will say when, after failing to comply with the bill, he is challenged with: "But you were required to...".

  • The Benn Bill makes the current date in the Withdrawl act irrelevant. Without an agreed deal by the 19th the PM must ask for an extension. If that is not granted the date in the withdrawl act becomes important again. At the moment it is not legal to leave on the 31st without a deal. – Jontia Sep 25 at 6:25

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