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By Russell Bruce
The Institute of Government has published a paper on Brexit and the role of parliament before 31st October. It is well worth a read. Spoiler – it is not looking good for parliament’s chances of stopping Johnson’s rush to No Deal crash out.
There are four possible Brexit outcomes this autumn, which are that the UK:
• leaves with a withdrawal agreement (or ‘deal’) As Johnson isn’t talking to the EU and the EU will not consider removing the Backstop from the Withdrawal Agreement there is no indication any deal can or will be done in the shortest of time frames
• leaves without a withdrawal agreement (‘no deal’) We have heard nothing from Johnson or puppet master Cummings to suggest other than this is their first and only plan. ‘Plan’ being an inappropriate word for the massive damage to the UK’s most important trading and inter-governmental relationship. Well exceeds trade disruptor Trump’s efforts on the international scene
• requests another extension to Article 50, That would mean UK would not leave ‘Come what May’ on 31st October. Johnson may be a serial liar but if he doesn’t hold to this, his planned takeover of the Brexit Party is ashes and Johnson proved a wobbly jelly splattered to Kingdom Come from a Farage fire bomb
• revokes its Article 50 letter, bringing the current Brexit process to an end This is pretty clearly the least likely of the options, Brexiteers would go nuclear.
When it comes to the possibilities the UK parliament has to stop No Deal none of them look like a certain pathway to ousting Johnson or bringing him down. The Institute of Government (IoG) examines them all in considerable detail. Holding to the nuclear theme the IoG describes a vote of no confidence as the ‘nuclear’ option.
A vote of no confidence motion from the Labour Party is a virtual certainty. The government controls the order paper and the business of the Commons. The government, as the IoG, writes: “If such a motion is brought by the official opposition then the government is expected to make time for it at the earliest opportunity.” “is expected’” applies to normal and Johnson is not leading a normal government, nor are we living in normal times.
The scheduling of parliamentary business is down to the Leader of the House of Commons, one Jacob Rees-Mogg, so no surprise at the reason for this appointment. The following week’s business is normally announced on a Thursday of each week the Commons sits, along with some indication of the business for the week after that. Plenty of opportunity to stall the motion of No Confidence when there is suddenly a lot of necessary legislation to deal with crashing out.
There are possibly just enough votes for the motion when, and if debated, to pass. A big issue is parliamentarians are divided on when the best time is to put down the motion. The Labour party seem to favour doing so early, others think leaving it until into October might have more chance of success. Tory rebels would be reluctant to support a No Confidence vote until Johnson has exhausted any opportunity of his bullying attempt to get the EU to drop the Backstop.
If successful there are then 14 days before a General Election date is set by the present government. In theory an alternative government could be formed within 14 days to replace the Johnson government but the arithmetic is problematic. The Labour party would only get behind Corbyn as candidate PM of a new, likely temporary. government. If it is not Corbyn, Labour leaver MPs would scupper any chance of the other names that have been mentioned. The SNP would be expected to support on the basis of a progressive alliance – as one more progressive than the present government, if only by a few degrees. It is all looking very uncertain and the number of MPs sitting as independents because they can’t find a party that they agree with anymore adds to the numbers game.
Tory rebels would find this difficult and most, if not all, are likely to melt away. The Lib Dems have said they would not support a Corbyn alternative for the simple reason they need to win Tory seats if they are to make a comeback at a general election. Swinson would see this as performing a death wish at the beginning of her leadership, but where there are swings there are also roundabouts to catch the ambivalent. With the Lib Dems dropping in the polls the early sugar rush looks a temporary and fading binge.
We are hearing lots of talk about more police officers, more prison places and longer sentences from Johnson and money that does not exist to pay for them. The reality is they are preparing for civil unrest when the real impacts of Brexit become evident. We will hear lots more Johnson lies in the weeks ahead, but take seriously that he really does mean do or die because otherwise he becomes the Brexit dodo.
From where things look at the moment, Corbyn is very unlikely to need that taxi to the palace. The Queen may be unhappy with the failure of parliament to resolve Brexit but Johnson will probably just about work within the terms of the UK’s unwritten constitution to get away with an election after crash out. Friday 1st November is being touted as a post crash date. Perhaps, departing from the convention of Thursday as the date for general elections, how about Tuesday 5th November to celebrate an actual 2019 blowing up of the Westminster parliament?
But what about a second referendum?
Put it back to the people. Sounds like a sensible idea but it isn’t going to happen on Johnson’s watch. Although it is the subject of a concerted campaign, a second referendum would take a minimum of 21 weeks to organise, involving a lengthy extension to Article 50. Any extension requires the agreement of EU and UK governments. Johnson will never consider it. He really means 31st October do or die because his premiership dies if he does not deliver on that. He would be literally hauled out of office by the Brexit Party, the ERG and the extreme cabinet he appointed to deliver the hardest of all Brexits.
No voters on the move at their own pace
Every day we hear of those who voted No in 2014 but are ready to vote Yes in a second independence referendum. One former committed No voter tweeted yesterday they would join the SNP the day the UK crashed out of the EU. They really can’t believe the UK will go down the road Johnson and Cummings have mapped out. We have to wait for them to catch up because they will be vociferous supporters for independence this time around.
This time we really cannot fail to get over the line by a comfortable margin. The movement is entirely due to the politics of Brexit Britain as a clear and substantial majority of Scots want to be in the EU. For a long time there has been evidence of increasing interest and potential support from ABC1 social groups combined with some fading of former support from C1DE social groups. The latter are likely to return for the most part as the build up to an independence vote gathers pace.
An added interest is how long the Tories in Scotland can go on supporting Johnson. They know they will be severely damaged by a Johnson Brexit, so when does party loyalty become a breaking point even for Ruth Davidson? She was a passionate and articulate remainer not so long ago but is unionist from head to toe. Independence for the Conservative and Unionist Party in Scotland is again up for discussion but not for Scotland. That is a circle beyond squaring, but the contortions will be a side issue worth the amusement.
Odd poll results from ComRes
A ComRes opinion poll for the Telegraph is making the news with the finding that 54% of the public agree Johnson needs to deliver Brexit “by any means, including suspending Parliament if necessary, in order to prevent MPs stopping it”. The order of questions effectively primed respondents to agree with the question – e.g. On Brexit, most MPs seem to ignore the wishes of voters and push their own agenda? and Do you agree or disagree: Parliament is out of touch with the British public? Interestingly voters in Scotland did not fall for it and by a clear majority disagreed (64% to 36%) By a smaller margin voters in London also disagreed. (58% to 42%)
All other English regions backed the suspension of parliament by a clear majority. An overwhelming majority of Conservatives 82% and Brexit Party 96% agreed with suspension. These high levels clearly skewed the final percentage because it was not supported by a majority of those intending to vote SNP, Labour, Lib Dem or Green.
More interesting are the questions on what people are worrying about if the UK leaves without a deal. There is a clear divide with low levels of concern in responses from Conservative and Brexit intending voters compared to high levels of concern recorded from SNP, Labour, Lib Dem and Green voters over supplies of fresh food, medicines, the cost of living increasing and EU citizens rights in the UK.
The views attributed to Lib Dem intending voters emphasise that Jo Swinson is making a major mistake in distancing herself from the other opposition parties by sidling up to the Tory party, as The Lib Dems did by being part of Cameron’s coalition government. Those opposed to No Deal across the political spectrum are working on a range of different initiatives. Whilst there is advantage tasking Johnson on a range of fronts we have yet to see a coalescing capable of delivering the decisive blow against leaving the EU without a deal of any kind.
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