The next prime minister will have the power to prevent MPs blocking a no-deal Brexit, though would he or she dare close the Commons for three months?
Whoever is elected Tory leader and becomes prime minister will find the clock is still ticking. Britain is to exit the European Union on Halloween, 31 October. To avoid that outcome, the EU must agree to a further extension so that the government can alter the exit date. The new prime minister will also be confronted with the unforgiving arithmetic of the House of Commons. Most MPs oppose a no-deal Brexit, though Labour’s attempt to enshrine this in law failed yesterday. But MPs have also three times rejected the only seeming alternative: the withdrawal agreement so laboriously negotiated by Theresa May. The EU has insisted that no alternative agreement is available.
Two candidates for the Tory leadership, Dominic Raab and Esther McVey, propose breaking this deadlock by proroguing parliament – ending the session – so that MPs are unable to block a no-deal Brexit. This, some have objected, could involve the Queen – since prorogation, unlike the dissolution of parliament, which leads to a general election, is governed not by statute but by royal prerogative. Indeed, Lord Armstrong, the former cabinet secretary, has suggested that the Queen, before exercising her discretion on so contentious a matter, would consult with Jeremy Corbyn, as leader of the opposition, and perhaps also with others.