Brexit – Pantomime Outrage

Just a quick update on the latest news about prorogation.

For background see recent articles in this series:

Tory Remainers insist on attempting to legislate against a No Deal Brexit and only replace PM Bojo as a very last resort.

Meanwhile Bojo is stuck roasting in that “special place in Hell” for Brexiteers without a plan. He has even been pretending that the EU are about to cave in to his “threats” of damage to the UK, but the obstruction from Parliament might be holding that up.

It is getting quite ridiculous so he is trying to get the House of Commons to hurry up and sack him by proroging Parliament – and telling them in advance so they know they need to sack him now.

HM has duly obliged by proroging Parliament so that it only sits on four less days than the dates it was scheduled to sit anyway. This has outraged the House majority but it is unclear whether they will sack Bojo immediately next week or wait until the Queen’s speech in mid-October after their recess for party conferences, as they still have not agreed on a replacement PM. Not replacing Bojo would result in him setting the election date for November pre-empted by a No Deal Brexit on 31 October.

The “outrage” is entirely synthetic. It is completely proper to require the House to replace the government with a government it has confidence in rather than continue the farce of legislating against the policies of a government it has no confidence in.

This pantomime has been going on since the 2017 elections when the government lost its majority. The government knows it has lost control of the House and is correctly demanding that the House replace it.

The House majority already legislated to ensure that it would be able to meet despite any prorogation except around exactly the window that was provided for the prorogation just announced with great fanfare by Bojo and greeted with mock surprise and outrage by his opponents.

Whether or not prorogued the house meets within 5 days of September 4 and fortnightly from October 9 till next year.

The list of sponsors of the amendment ensuring that are the same as the leaders of the majority:

That legislation was given the Royal Assent on the same day that Bojo was commissioned as PM (and at the same hour).

The House majority can replace the PM at any time it chooses. If it chooses not to, it will rightly be held jointly responsible for the consequences.

The pantomime outrage is purely for the benefit of the Tory Remainers who need to be able to say they had no alternative when they do finally pull the plug on this zombie government with its undead Brexit.

Brexit – four parties dancing and falling to bits

Rebel Tory MPs did acquiesce in Bojo becoming PM so there is now a loose canon in 10 Downing Street.

But the Brexit saga will still be effectively over before October 17. See my previous articles in this series on Brexit:

Bojo has done rather well in achieving a bounce in the polls, by adopting the No Deal policies of the Brexit party, while Labour and Libdems remained fairly static with a resulting net shift to:

Con 31%, Lab 21%, Libdem 19%, Brexit 14%, Green 7%, SNP 4% (Scottish Nationalist Party)

Click to access TheTimes_190806_VI_Trackers_w.pdf

That is still 45% voting for parties committed to Brexit even with No Deal, and 55% for parties opposed.

But Bojo cannot deliver Brexit because he does not have a majority in the House. So a high proportion of Tory votes will return to the Brexit party after Bojo’s promises to deliver on October 31 implode. For example if 8% gave up on a Tory Brexit the result would be Con 23%, Brexit 22% – more like the situation at the start of July, before the Bojo bounce.

Labour also wants to get voters back from Libdems by opposing No Deal while not losing them to Brexit party by actually becoming a Remain party. It is likely to get a substantial swing back from the Libdems because Bojo is fully committed to “No Deal” and Labour can now wholeheartedly oppose that without alienating its Leave supporters. For example an 8% swing back would produce Lab 29%, Libdem 11% – more like the end of April, before the EU elections.

In addition, the extremism of Bojo’s adoption of the Brexit party’s “No Deal” could move some Tory voters out of the pro-Brexit camp entirely, either to not voting or to the Libdems. With the Libdems no longer competitive, a Tory swing to Libdems would lose Tory seats to Labour rather than to Libdems.

The combined net result could still be near extinction of the Tory party as looked plausible at the time of the EU elections. Only a detailed regional and seat by seat analysis of polls after actual campaign launches could hope to provide a reasonable prediction but things look much worse for Tories than for Labour if Labour successfully blocks a “damaging Tory No Deal Brexit”. Things certainly look a lot better for Tories than before Bojo, but they could look a lot worse again after his bluster implodes.

The media on both sides are convinced that Bojo is determined to jump off the “No Deal” cliff edge on October 31 expecting to win an election around the same date. That is absurd, but it has nearly all the journos quite mesmerized. The election will be held after Brexit has been “resolved” by a “Final Say” referendum. How long after would depend on the opposing inclinations of an unstable agreement among rebel Tories, Libdems, Labour and SNP.

Bojo’s tactics can be understood as aiming to keep as many Brexit party voters as possible to save as many seats as possible by defying the majority in the House and getting sacked. It’s an unusual strategy for a conservative PM but these are strange times. The point is that only by getting sacked can Bojo heroically lead most of the Brexiteers to glorious defeat in the inevitable “Final Say” referendum. Otherwise Farage could still be leading too many of them for the Tory party to survive. If nobody else will do it he will move to sack himself.

Labour now wants to avoid an early general election but cannot admit it.

Tories need to be stopped from carrying out their promises by being sacked, but cannot admit it.

Libdems now have more need for an early election than for stopping Brexit but cannot admit it.

Brexit party needs Bojo to stay as PM and sell out Brexit, but cannot admit it.

There is a huge churn of both the Labour and Tory parties gaining and losing either Remain or Leave voters to both the Brexit party and Libdems, depending on which way they lurch and which way the others lurch.

In this complicated dance of totally unprincipled opportunists in four parties, the UK political system is falling to bits. It was designed for two parties each delivering their supporters to accept compromise to win elections from their opponents.

Bojo desperately needs a “Final Say” referendum to be “forced” on him. May had to resign after admitting a second Brexit referendum was inevitable so Bojo is putting up a quite convincing show that he would rather jump off the cliff-edge of “No Deal” unless restrained. Furthermore he has threatened to pre-empt using a general election to stop him. If defeated in a Vote of No Confidence (VoNC) he would supposedly refuse to resign and instead schedule any general election for AFTER a “No Deal” Brexit had already happened by default on October 31.

Thus the most practical way to restrain Bojo is to replace him as PM with a temporary minority government holding a “Final Say” referendum before a general election. That is what he wants. But he is having to practically demand it as his opponents are such limp jellyfish.

The UK press is getting hysterical about a “Constitutional Crisis”, joined by some constitutional lawyers:

Can Boris Johnson ignore parliament and force a no deal Brexit?

It is unclear whether the majority against Brexit in the House will continue to “exhaust every other alternative” before finally doing the Constitutional thing.

But in the end the House has to simply replace the government with one it has confidence in. The problem is that hardly anybody in the UK has confidence in any of the parties, including their MPs.

Is it too late to stop a no deal Brexit?

This government has already lost the confidence of the House of Commons: the response should be to replace the government, not to neuter parliament

Click to access Endangering-Constitutional-Government.pdf

Apart from any such “exhausting”, the most likely sequence of events seems to me as follows (with many possible variations, all of which lead to a “Final Say” and no Brexit):

1. Corbyn could move an ordinary no confidence motion in early September. This does not trigger a 14 day deadline leading to a general election. It simply removes the authority to govern from Bojo who becomes a caretaker PM with a duty NOT to resign until the palace is able to determine who is most likely to command the confidence of the House.

Click to access SN06941.pdf

The government has an official working majority of 0, with quite a few Tory MPs likely to support this first step even if they do not want to go further. (Perhaps between 40 and 100). Naturally this possibility is not even mentioned in the media, which is talking only in terms of a VoNC under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act (FtPA) that triggers an early general election. Alternatively Corbyn could do as the media expects and still get a (smaller) majority with a tighter deadline. Either way negotiations for a replacement government would need to happen in advance. Those negotiations are proceeding right now.

2. The current state of the parties means the palace would have to wait until the House tells it who has its confidence to commission as PM. The Libdems will try to bring on an early election by refusing to support a temporary minority Labour government on the grounds that they cannot accept Corbyn as PM. But ultimately their members cannot allow a No Deal Brexit so they will have to agree on a replacement government. Tory MPs opposed to Bojo’s No Deal might also try to get a cross-party government formed under some other PM. I think the likely outcome is the natural one for the Leader of the Opposition to become Prime Minister. This does matter for the coherence of any party system but does not really matter for the outcome on Brexit.

Can Boris Johnson ignore parliament and force a no deal Brexit?

3. One mechanism for telling the palace who to commission would be for MPs to sign competing “Early Day Motions” nominating different candidates for PM. Theoretically the palace could pick the motion with the largest support and that might not be Corbyn. But it is far more likely for the palace to wait for an actual majority vote expressing the choice by the House, perhaps in a “Humble Address” to HM the Queen. Either way this could drag on for quite a while, with Bojo still roasting in that “special place in Hell” for Brexiteers without a plan, and with business getting increasingly panic stricken about “uncertainty”.

4. Bojo could and probably would pose as the people’s champion against a recalcitrant Parliament by moving for an early election under the FtPA. This would need a 2/3 majority of all 650 seats. But Labour has more than 1/3 and Bojo has already given Labour the perfect excuse to refuse on the grounds that Bojo cannot be trusted not to pre-empt the outcome by setting an election date after the Brexit deadline of 31 October and not applying to the EU for an extension.

5. Bojo could then move a VoNC under the FtPA against his own government. That only requires a majority to trigger a 14 day deadline and might well succeed in speeding things up, with much drama. In any case the House would need to agree on a replacement PM and tell the palace before about October 17 or Brexit would go ahead with the MPs who refuse to agree on a replacement sharing joint responsibility with Bojo for “No Deal”.

6. Optionally Bojo could choose to be dismissed by the palace rather than resign, for added effect.

The Guardian, like the Daily Express, is quite excited about this possibility because it would just be silly and they are both rather silly.

7. If there is a VoNC under the FtPA the House would be dissolved for a general election after 14 days unless a replacement government won a VoC. Most likely the Libdems and Tory rebels would end their posturing, perhaps by simply abstaining. Labour plus the SNP has 282 MPs which would outnumber the 321 Tory + DUP MPs if 40 Tories abstained (ignoring all Libdems, Independents and the Green). It would be possible for a different replacement temporary PM to be chosen depending on unknowable negotiations among the factions. But that would only add to the atmosphere of “establishment stitch-up”.

8. Whoever is PM would be heading a very temporary minority government that could collapse immediately after obtaining an extension from the EU. Far more likely it would last long enough to legislate for a “Final Say” referendum. Assuming it is led by Corbyn it could theoretically attempt to reopen negotiations with the EU by ditching the previous UK “red lines”. But it would make far more sense to leave that to election promises for an incoming Labour government than to get stuck attempting it with no majority in the House. Either way the Brexit saga would be effectively ended by the decision before October 17 to hold a “Final Say” referendum.

9. The referendum timetable could take several months but the result would certainly be a rejection of “No Deal”.

10. Any general election held after that would not primarily be about Brexit although the Tory party would still be confronted by an angry Brexit party for having failed to deliver and would lose heavily. The Labour party would recover some, but not all the votes it lost to the Libdems by equivocating about Brexit. Quite likely there would be a minority Labour government dependent on support from SNP and/or Libdems. There could still be four parties competing in a two party electoral system. Proportional Representation will be very much on the agenda although it would be much easier to achieve if the Tory party woke up to its situation while it was still the largest party in Parliament but already in opposition to a minority Labour government supported by Libdems who would still support PR.

11. No predictions beyond this point are worthwhile. But any subsequent “Brexit” would most likely only be a pointless BRINO that would still be subject to a confirmatory referendum which should be rejected by Leave voters as a BRINO and by Remain voters as pointless.