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2019-07-18 17:12:32

LONDON (Reuters) - British lawmakers on Thursday backed proposals to make it harder for the next prime minister to force through a no-deal Brexit by suspending parliament, showing again their determination to stop a divorce from the European Union without agreement.

FILE PHOTO: A Union Jack flag flutters over the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, April 2, 2019. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis/File Photo

Boris Johnson, the clear frontrunner to succeed Prime Minister Theresa May next week, has said Britain must leave the EU on Oct. 31 with or without a deal.

He has refused to rule out suspending, or proroguing, parliament to prevent lawmakers from passing legislation to block his exit plan if he tries to exit without a deal.

Lawmakers backed a proposal by 315 to 274 that would require parliament to be sitting to consider Northern Irish affairs for several days in September and October even if it was suspended.

They also backed a requirement for ministers to make fortnightly reports on progress toward re-establishing Northern Ireland’s collapsed executive and to give lawmakers an opportunity to debate and approve those reports.

The measures do not amount to an outright block on suspending parliament but could make it much more difficult to bypass lawmakers. It is still subject to final approval by the House of Lords, but it is not expected to be blocked.

Those hoping to stop a no-deal Brexit believe that if parliament is sitting in the run-up to Oct. 31 they will have the chance to prevent Britain leaving without a deal, the current legal default position.

“We are responsible for ensuring, or trying to ensure good governance...we’re supposed to be the protectors of the nation,” Conservative lawmaker Dominic Grieve, one of those behind the proposal, said during the debate ahead of the vote.

A junior culture minister resigned after being among 17 Conservatives who rebelled against the government to vote for the measure while media reported that finance minister Philip Hammond and other senior government figures, who are likely to be sacked if Johnson wins the top job, abstained.

“The Prime Minister is obviously disappointed that a number of ministers failed to vote in this afternoon’s division. No doubt her successor will take this into account when forming their government,” a spokesman for her office said.

The three-year-old Brexit crisis is deepening as Johnson’s plan to leave the EU “do or die” on Oct. 31 sets Britain on a collision course with the bloc’s 27 other leaders and many lawmakers in the British parliament.

Earlier on Thursday, the Office for Budget Responsibility, the budget watchdog, warned Britain might be entering a full-blown recession that a no-deal exit from the European Union would compound, blowing a 30 billion-pound hole in the public finances.

The OBR said the economy probably flat-lined or might have contracted in the second quarter.

Britain’s economy slowed by less than feared after the 2016 Brexit referendum. But many investors are worried about a sharp downturn now with the latest Brexit deadline approaching on Oct. 31 and the world economy slowing because of trade tensions.

A no-deal Brexit could cause the economy to contract by 2% by the end of 2020, the OBR said, referring to International Monetary Fund forecasts.

Additional reporting by Costas Pitas and Elizabeth Piper, Writing by Michael Holden; editing by Stephen Addison/Guy Faulconbridge

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