Alternative ways to break Brexit impasse

With Parliament seemingly deadlocked over the best way forward on Brexit and Theresa May’s deal widely expected to be voted down, no one really knows what is going to happen next.

We already know what the likely scenarios are. You can read about them here.

But what about the unlikely ones? Anything seems possible at the moment so it would be unwise to rule any of these out entirely.

The Queen intervenes

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Reuters

With no apparent parliamentary majority for any one course of action – is it time to get the Queen involved?

In Britain’s constitutional monarchy, this is not meant to happen. Her Majesty has always remained above the political fray and will, no doubt, want to stay that way.

But she is the only person who can invite someone to form a government and become prime minister.

This has led to speculation that should Theresa May’s deal, as expected, be rejected by MPs and no clear way forward emerges, the monarch could step in.

She would not be allowed to exercise her own political judgement.

Convention dictates that the monarch, as head of state, must appoint the leader of the party that can command a majority in the House of Commons. It would be up to the politicians to decide that.

Interestingly, two advocates of this option are both Republicans, who would like to see the end of the monarchy.

Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell said Labour could be asked to form a minority government without an election, if Mrs May’s administration falls apart.

“If it’s a minority government and they can’t obtain a majority in Parliament, usually it’s then the right, the duty of the monarch to offer to the opposition the opportunity to form a government.

“I think we can secure a majority in Parliament for some of the proposals we’re putting forward.”

Former Respect and Labour MP George Galloway suggested on Talk Radio that the country would be plunged into “political stasis” if MPs reject the deal on offer.

“There are several ways that stasis could be broken. The best one by far is for Her Majesty to decide that only the country itself can rule on where Britain goes next. General election now, that is what I say, that is what I hope she will say.”

However, under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, the monarch lost the power to dissolve Parliament. She retains no residual powers in relation to dissolution.

Two referendums

The clamour for a further referendum is growing among MPs who want to halt Brexit.

But what would the question be? A direct “Remain or Leave” re-run of the 2016 vote? Leave with a deal or no-deal? Or a combination of the two, with potentially three questions?

Vernon Bogdanor, professor of government at King’s College, London, has suggested the Brexit impasse could be resolved by holding a further referendum – then another one.

He wrote in the Guardian that two referendums could be held a few weeks apart – the first, a straight Leave or Remain choice.

Then, if Leave won, another vote on the terms of departure.

Former cabinet minister Justine Greening has suggested an alternative – one referendum offering three choices, with people getting a first and second preference vote.

A Citizens’ Assembly

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Reuters

Labour MP Liz Kendall has pointed out that Brexit is not the only controversial issue to be put to a public vote recently – and has suggested that Ireland’s referendum on overturning its ban on abortion might offer a way forward, in the form a “citizens’ assembly”.

In Ireland, the body was set up to advise elected representatives on a number of ethical and political dilemmas facing the Irish people. It is made up of 99 members chosen at random to broadly represent the views of the Irish electorate, and a chairperson.

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Media captionLiz Kendall suggests a “citizens’ assembly of ordinary people”, as used in Ireland, to ask UK voters about Brexit

Ms Kendall told the BBC’s This Week an assembly of “ordinary people” could determine the referendum question, to avoid criticism that it would be a “Parliamentary stitch-up”.

“If we get on with it quickly, it’s perfectly possible to run something like a citizens’ assembly within something like six weeks, and it’s been used on very controversial issues like abortion in Ireland,” she said.

A government of national unity

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PA

Image caption

Winston Churchill’s wartime coalition with King George VI

Could a cabinet made up of members of different parties, usually formed during a time of national crisis, offer a solution to the current parliamentary deadlock?

It may seem like a concept confined to the history books – stirring up memories of former PM Winston Churchill’s wartime coalition government, or the 1930s national government led by Ramsay MacDonald, after being expelled by the Labour Party.

But it has been publicly floated as a way out of the Brexit stalemate.

Advocates of such an arrangement have included Tory pro-Remain MP Anna Soubry, who suggested Mrs May should reach out to the SNP, Plaid Cymru, Labour backbenchers “and other sensible, pragmatic people who believe in putting this country’s interests first and foremost”.

Her fellow Tory backbencher Sir Nicholas Soames, Churchill’s grandson, also backed the idea back in July.

However, both the Labour and Conservative front benches rejected the suggestion over the summer, so it seems like a non-starter. Furthermore, the electoral battering suffered by the Lib Dems after going into coalition with the Conservatives in 2010 will still be fresh in many minds.

Ramsay MacDonald’s decision to form a national government was considered a betrayal by many in his party.

A Parliamentary Commission

A Parliamentary Commission, made up of senior figures from the Leave and Remain sides of the debate, to oversee Brexit, is another idea being whispered about in some corners.

There was a lot of talk about this in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 referendum. Heavyweight figures, including Nicola Sturgeon, Lord Hague, Sir John Major and Yvette Cooper backed it.

Michael Gove also had warm words about cross-party cooperation, and argued that “we should draw on wisdom from great minds outside of politics” as well.

The Smith Commission – set up in 2014 by ex-PM David Cameron in aftermath of the Scottish independence referendum to “convene cross-party talks and facilitate an inclusive engagement process” – was seen by some as a possible model.

It is probably far too late to set up such a body to oversee the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, on 29 March.

But the idea might get some traction again if trade talks get under way after Brexit day.

It might take some of the partisan heat out of the debate and head off the kind of parliamentary turmoil we have seen this week.

But MPs are not meant to tell governments what to do, just scrutinise the decisions of ministers and hold them to account. So the danger is it could end up being a talking shop with no real power.

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