Brexit: A delay could get Boris Johnson the election he craves

The first was that the government “pulled the vote” after they lost the Letwin amendment, which dictated that the PM’s deal could not be authorised until all associated Brexit-related legislation is passed.

The other was that nothing was decided, that it was a damp squib. Both things are untrue.

Instead, the Commons did take a decision and the vote was not pulled. After the Letwin amendment passed, the government effectively chose not to contest the main motion. So the whole thing simply went through on the nod.

That itself was the decision the Commons took. It means that although Jacob Rees-Mogg has announced the government wants to bring back a vote on the deal later today, in all likelihood they will not be able to.

The Speaker will almost certainly rule the idea out of order because the House cannot consider the same issue twice in one session, and to do so would expressly contradict the Letwin amendment.

And so the only way for the government to get its deal through is via that legislation, namely the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB).

The plan seems to be to introduce the WAB on Tuesday. But this is fraught with problems that do not exist with the meaningful vote.

The WAB is a dense piece of statute, fastening down the legal details of Brexit and paving the way for our leaving. The problem is it can be amended in every which way thinkable.

The potential amendment which generates most interest is the idea of a second referendum, but this is probably a red herring as the votes (probably) don’t exist for it still.

What could explode the government’s game-plan is an amendment on a customs union, something which attracts support across the House of Commons (which came very close to passing during the indicative votes process earlier in the year) and cuts right across government policy.

It is made more likely still by the fact that the DUP’s 10 votes are, after their abandonment by the government, up for grabs for the first time. A customs union would please them, because it would apply to the whole of the UK.

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Their red line, that Northern Ireland is treated the same as the other three nations, would be observed. But it is, in effect, a wrecking amendment, because it is anathema to much of the Tory Party.

Therefore it’s highly likely that the government would have to withdraw the bill entirely. All options to get Brexit done before the end of the month would have evaporated.

Indeed, it’s not even clear the government can even be guaranteed of getting the chance to bring the WAB forward. In order to do so it will have to pass something called a “programme motion”, which allows the government to determine when something is debated, the terms of debate and for how long. It’s entirely possible they don’t have the votes to do so, or that MPs might try and push it beyond the October deadline.

On top of that, the government was due to hold the final days of debate on the Queen’s Speech (remember that? it was exactly a week ago). It’s again possible the government might lose that vote.

If Boris Johnson did so, he would be the first PM to lose a vote on a Queen’s (or King’s) Speech since Stanley Baldwin in 1924. Historically, it would have been treated as an issue of confidence and the incumbent PM would resign or seek a dissolution of parliament.

However, thanks to the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, that is no longer strictly the case. But in the wake of a defeat, the pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to table a vote of no-confidence would be immense.

In other words, the curse of minority government could strike, once, twice, thrice or more this week. If it becomes clear that there is no way for the government to get the WAB through unamended (and ergo despite a potential latent majority, no way for the PM to prosecute his deal) the parliamentary gridlock, already stiff, will become absolute and immovable.

And I wonder whether, in the end, that might be the best thing for Boris Johnson. That it might be worth his losing this battle, to win the war.

For if the impasse can’t be broken and Brussels grants an extension to the end of January, as has been requested, the pressure on the opposition to finally accede to the election Number 10 so desires, will be great.

With no deal once more taken off the table, there will be few excuses not to finally vote for one (though some parties may try). If Labour agreed, however, we would be looking at an election in early December.

And perhaps, despite the lateness of the month, there would be no better time this year to hold that election, no moment more potentially clarifying nor cleansing.

Because now the respective platforms of the parties would be at last be clear. There would be a realistic and simple choice for the voters.

The Conservatives would have a common united Brexit platform on which to fight: Boris Johnson’s deal. Labour meanwhile would offer a new referendum. The choice of either would break the logjam and confer what is so desperately needed: legitimacy, one way or the other.

Even if parliament was hung, the parties would have a renewed mandate which were correlative to the current situation, rather than the now distant political world of 2017.

The main parties would be shorn of rebels, many standing down or purged. It would therefore probably be easier, even if no party had a majority of their own, to construct one for Brexit. At the very least, MPs in the next parliament could hardly be any worse at doing so, than those in this one.

2019-10-21T21:58:08+01:00By |

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