It appears that the UK will indeed ask for another extension in the Brexit process, as mandated by the Benn act. But what is the purpose of asking for another extension? Does Parliament expect the EU to budge in terms of finalizing a better exit deal? Or do they hope to get more time for an orderly no-deal exit?

I'm primarily interested in the official position of MPs voting for the Benn act.


6 Answers 6


The Parliament doesn't have a single opinion. It probably has 650 different opinions (perhaps more!).

Individual members may be hoping to achieve different things by an extension:

  • Strong remainers, such as Jo Swinson, are hoping that the UK will eventually have to retract its article 50 request, and remain in the EU. Requesting another extension is the first step towards this.
  • Some want to get Theresa May's agreement passed, though most supporters of May's agreement voted against the Benn Act (party loyalty still counts for something).
  • Others, perhaps including Philip Hammond and Nicholas Soames, are hoping that the government will be forced to negotiate a much closer relationship with Europe, including membership of the Single Market.
  • Others are principally hoping to cause Boris Johnson's government to fail and to benefit in the election that would ultimately follow. This probably includes Jeremy Corbyn.

Unlike a government, individual MPs don't have an "official position".


While individual positions within all the parties are muddled, each party's position is reasonably clear.

Conservatives: Out on 31st October, Deal or No Deal, the article linked also says they will follow the law as per the Benn Act and ask for an extension. This is obviously contradictory.

Labour: Extension to get a general election, renegotiate and then People's Vote. No commitment on backing their own deal to deliver Brexit until that negotiation is complete.

LibDem: Extend to get a general election, then Revoke article 50 if they win a majority without a further referendum. This may contradict their own website which talks about giving the people the choice to revoke. Though a vote in a GE is still a choice, especially with such a clear policy. If the LibDems do not achieve a majority in that GE, they will campaign hard for a People's Vote within the next Parliament.

SNP: Brexit policy page has not been updated since before March, but given the six months between March and October haven't really been used for negotiations the position is fundamentally still valid. Extend for People's Vote.

The 21 Rebel Conservatives are difficult to group together with a central policy.

Grieve is essentially backed by Lib Dems. Many of the others are former Cabinet Ministers under Theresa May and voted in favour of May's deal multiple times. And would therefore be backing an extension to ensure a deal is done.


In the short term, to avoid No Deal and the consequent disasters predicted by Yellowhammer. There's no realistic time to do anything else, and as yet no consensus as to what to do.

In the medium term? I refer the honorable gentleman to my previous answer.

First of all, Johnson has to go. Either being replaced by an agreed replacement in a confidence vote, or via calling an election - but only after the extension has been agreed and is solidly in place, which is why it was denied by MPs very recently.

Then there will have to be an election or referendum. No progress can be made until there is a majority for a specific, workable way forward on which MPs and the EU can agree. That cannot happen until enough supporters of unworkable plans have been removed from Parliament, or persuaded to give up and quit their parties.

The EU is not going to budge on single market integrity and the Irish border issue. People need to learn from Greece that the EU is a much harder negotiating partner than the British press claim.

Similarly, preparing for No Deal is impossible without admitting the real consequences to the public, which would be tremendously unpopular. So that's not going to be advanced either.

  • 18
    the EU is a much harder negotiating partner Which is the point of having a trading bloc, after all. We've benefitted from that for so long, Leavers seem to think it'll always be there. But when we leave, of course it won't be, and we'll be permanently in the weaker position.
    – Graham
    Oct 7, 2019 at 8:02
  • 1
    You say 'Disaster' but that's not backed up by any evidence, I would say 'Short-term minor disruption, mitigated by the Government's no-deal preparation'...
    – JeffUK
    Oct 7, 2019 at 17:38
  • 6
    @jeffuk I mentioned Yellowhammer; where's your evidence that having to do customs clearance for every truck through Calais won't be a problem?
    – pjc50
    Oct 7, 2019 at 17:42
  • @pjc50 I agree that will be disruptive but 'disaster' is taking it a bit far... let alone plural disasters!
    – JeffUK
    Oct 7, 2019 at 17:45
  • 1
    @RossThompson Well, there's that ad about how you might be able to buy cheaper fags when coming back from the Costa Brava. Oct 9, 2019 at 6:06

In the short term the stated goal is to prevent no-deal, which many in Parliament see as damaging to the UK.

Beyond that being forced to ask for an extension will damage the Tories and their leader Boris Johnson. They have repeatedly said that they will leave on the 31st at any cost. This is important because a General Election now looks inevitable, given that the government has lost its majority and is effectively unable to govern.

The various opposition parties have different goals, but all of them are now looking towards this General Election and extending Article 50 is necessary to give them time to hold it, win it and then take whatever action they wish to regarding Brexit.


Well it's probably true that individual MPs have their own reasons for voting as they do, I think it's worth re-stating that for the majority of MPs, what they "hope to achieve" is to represent the wishes of their own constituents. Most MPs are accurately reflecting the majority view of their constituents.

Although the majority vote in the EU referendum was to leave, that leave vote was still a minority of the British People. And of course the remain vote was a (slightly smaller) minority of the British People. Both minorities are very large, too large to ignore, but they are still minorities.

Given that we have no clear majority of opinion in the country for leave/remain, and given that we have a representative democracy, it should come as no surprise that there is no clear majority in parliament for leave or remain. In fact, it would be an indictment of our democracy if there was a clear majority in parliament when there is none in the country.

None of this helps us to understand how the situation might be resolved. However, it's important to remember that parliament was elected more recently than the EU referendum, and any MPs who are not reflecting their constituents views can expect to be out of a job soon. Therefore I don't think it's fair to talk of parliament "frustrating the will of the people". If anything, it's more like a minority Government frustrating the will of the democratically-elected parliament.

  • This answer makes some fundamental mathematical errors. The referendum results are a percentage of the total population who voted one way, or another, or didn't vote. MPs on the other hand represent a percentage of constituencies which individually either voted for leave or remain. Thus it does not follow that a minority position in the referendum results in a minority position in parliament. Quite the contrary, approximately 62.5% of MPs represent constituencies which contained more Brexit voters than Remain voters.
    – JBentley
    Oct 9, 2019 at 0:29
  • Thus is it were true that "most MPs are accurately reflecting the majority view of their constituents" then, given that MPs typically only consider the majority views of constituents who actually voted, we should expect a majority in favour of Brexit. Indeed this is exactly what we have. The problem is not that "there is no clear majority in parliament for leave or remain" as you claim. The problem is that "leave" is ill-defined whereas remain has a very clear meaning. The MPs who favour Brexit, do not all favour the same version of Brexit.
    – JBentley
    Oct 9, 2019 at 0:37
  • @JBentley - Thanks for your comment. You quote that 62.5% of MPs represent constituencies which contained more Brexit voters, but that is a measure of their constituents' opinions at the time of the EU referendum, not at the time of the last General Election, and not now. My point is that those MPs must now believe that the majority of their constituents want them to behave in the way they are, or else they must believe that they'll be out of a job at the next GE. Or maybe some MPs vote against the wishes of their constituents, because they believe it's best for the country. Imagine that.
    – Martin
    Oct 9, 2019 at 7:23
  • @JBentley - I am in full agreement with you about the ill-defined nature of "leave" and personally I think that fact alone accounts for almost all of the "trouble" we're in now.
    – Martin
    Oct 9, 2019 at 7:25

Different members of Parliament doubtless have different motivations, but broadly speaking I think it's safe to say that the great majority wish to avoid any risk of No Deal.

Some will be hoping to use the extra time to secure a deal (vanishingly unlikely though this looks), others to secure a new referendum, still others simply kicking the can because that's still better than No Deal.

But the one thing that Parliament has been very clear on in this whole fiasco is that No Deal is not acceptable, and is to be averted. (For very good reason, since all indications are the result would be somewhere between catastrophic and flat out apocalyptic).

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