MPs plotting to stop a no-deal Brexit have suffered a setback after the Speaker of the Commons killed off a radical move to stage a US-style ‘shutdown’ of government.
Veteran MPs Dominic Grieve and Dame Margaret Beckett had tabled an amendment aimed at stopping new Whitehall spending on overseas aid and education.
Under the plan to hijack the so-called annual ‘Estimates’ votes due this week, the grandees wanted to halt all flows of cash if a new prime minister went ahead with a no-deal exit.
But John Bercow announced on Monday that he was not selecting the key amendment.
Similar amendments are planned for further estimates motions on the Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on Tuesday, but it is likely that the Speaker may again decide not to choose them.
Labour had been weighing up whether to formally back the controversial ‘shutdown’ move, but its stance is now academic.
Former attorney general Grieve, who teamed up with former foreign secretary Beckett last week, has said that it is “frankly unconstitutional” for any prime minister to take the UK out of the EU without the consent of the Commons.
However, the use of the Estimates process would be highly unusual and had prompted the criticism that it would have hit the vulnerable more that it would have affected Brexit.
Grieve had told the Sun newspaper that he had support for the plan, but he had admitted that it was aimed at putting down “a marker”.
Tory Brexiteer MP Mark Francois had said: “The idea some utterly Europhile MPs are threatening to withhold school funding or benefits payments is abhorrent, and I hope and believe this amendment will be defeated.”
Nikki da Costa, former head of legislative affairs at Downing Street, has called the amendment “a bit of grandstanding”.
Other veteran MPs are still working on other mechanisms for preventing a no-deal exit later this month or in September, including a possible emergency debate which many hope would have the backing of the Speaker.