Government can no longer command a majority in the House of Commons.
Two votes in 24 hours have demonstrated that the government has lost control of the House of Commons in the critical run up to a meaningful vote on the only deal on the table for leaving the European Union. Yesterday the Commons voted by 303 to 296 to limit the government’s tax administration powers in the event of no deal. Today they voted to require the PM to come back with a new deal within three days if the current deal is voted down.
In years gone by this would have meant the collapse of the government and a general election. Since the introduction of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act however the lame duck government can limp on, incapable of passing important legislation, until a formal motion of no confidence is passed.
The Labour Party has indicated that they plan to table such a vote if, as is likely, the Government loses the meaningful vote on May’s Brexit deal.
What can we probably expect?
- May will almost certainly lose the vote. She could even put her own neck on the block threatening to resign is she loses.
- May or her deputy, in the event she goes, will have no chance at all of getting the EU agree to a different deal within three days
- With 70 days before Britain is set to leave the EU there will be no deal and no prospect of one.
- Parliament may spend some of that time discussing alternatives before concluding that there is no majority for any plan.
- There are then just three alternatives:
- We leave without a deal on March 29.
- There’s a general election – this may be enough to persuade the 27 EU countries to delay Article 50 but no guarantee that they we will – so no deal exit on March 29
- There’s a 2nd referendum. This may be enough to get Article 50 extended but no guaranteed that parliament will allow it.
What can we definitely expect?
This is the bizarre moment when Prime Minister Theresa May was accused of a “premature parliamentary ejaculation” and immediately decried that she was incapable of such a thing. The accusation and denial ‘came’ during questions following the withdrawal on the meaningful vote on May’s Brexit proposal.
We hear constantly from politicians that a people’s vote would be undemocratic. Dwell on that for a moment.
Let’s say we swallow the argument that the people have already spoken and little has changed since British public advised politicians that they wanted to leave the EU. May’s mantra ‘Brexit means Brexit’ is a broadly held view. So on the one hand politicians tell us that they must deliver Brexit and yet plan to vote against it. The May deal is the front runner in not gaining the support of the majority of MPs, but a hard Brexit would also be voted down. A Norway deal would be voted down. Canada plus plus plus would be voted down. So despite politicians telling us they must and will deliver Brexit, it seems there is no deal that they will support. So that leaves ‘no deal’.
However it’s likely that MP’s will decree that ‘no deal’ will be vetoed. So there isn’t any deal we can agree on, we won’t be allowed to leave without a deal and we won’t be given the choice to remain because asking the people would be undemocratic.
So as it stands, there’s no deal, there’s no ‘no deal’ and there’s no option to even consider whether we wish to remain.
The day after PM Theresa May forced her draft Brexit deal through the cabinet her proposal and possibly her premiership has unravelled. A series of resignations from government and letters to Graham Brady the chair of the Conservative 1922 Committee will trigger a no-confidence motion that will take place in days possibly as soon as tomorrow.
The only way for May to avoid the vote, which she might well win, would be to resign. All Conservative MPs can vote and if May wins, she remains as PM and cannot be challenged by her party for 12 months. Lose and she must resign and is not eligible to stand in the leadership election that will follow.
May’s replacement will become prime minister without a general election. The election is by secret ballot and the candidate with the fewest votes is removed. Dependent on the number there are several votes (on Tuesdays and Thursdays) until only there are just two candidates who face each other in a postal ballot of the whole Conservative Party membership. The whole process could take several weeks.
Given that the Tories have no majority the combined opposition parties could pass a vote of No Confidence in the government and trigger a general election.
Few doubt that Boris Johnson’s resignation yesterday was less to do with Brexit and more to do with his continuing aspirations to be Prime Minister. Therein lies his problem.
Johnson has form for putting ambition ahead of service, a lot of form. Johnson biographer Andrew Gimson describes him as “staggeringly inconsiderate of others” when focusing upon his own interests. His popularity with a significant sector of the public, may well have tipped the balance in the Brexit referendum. Though despite his vigorous campaigning it’s not entirely clear he believed what he was saying. In February 2016, it was reported that Boris had written two Daily Telegraph columns – one in favour of Brexit, the other for Remain – before deciding which would fill his weekly slot. His decision to back Leave may well have been based on the belief that he would be narrowly on the losing side. He could then have fallen in line as a gallant loser, perfectly placed to succeed Cameron.
For months he has ignored the notion of collective cabinet responsibility to push himself onto the front pages. He seems to be sanguine about the Brexit shambles so long as it helps brand Boris. Yesterday, having agreed to May’s Brexit proposal on Friday, he did a 180 degree turn and resigned. He even produced a publicity shot, signing his resignation letter. History shows that those who show their hand so clearly and so often, rarely reach the highest office.
The resignation couldn’t have been more stage-managed and a leadership bid yesterday seemed inevitable. A few weeks ago when business leaders questioned the government’s indecision over Brexit, Boris allegedly said: “fuck business”. It seems now that more and more people are saying : “fuck Boris”.
You don’t need a crystal ball to foresee the result of today’s cabinet summit at Chequers. There has never been any doubt, we are on coure for no deal and that means a hard Brexit with hard borders all round.
Either A) there’s a compromise that will work and all the brilliant minds in government have spent two years looking but can’t find it or B) there’s no compromise that will work. It’s B) if you’re wondering.
The problem is twofold. Even if the cabinet agrees to a fudge today it won’t hold.
The second hurdle is even bigger.
Let’s say just for argument’s sake, two years after the referendum, we agree a plan. It normally takes a minimum of five years to agree and implement a trade deal and in some cases it can take more than twenty. That’s if both sides want a trade deal. The EU doesn’t want one because it would likely lead to the breakup of the EU. So we have one year but we need between five and twenty from the date at which the EU decides it wants a deal, which is likely to be never. You do the maths.
By 2024 we might have struck some deals outside of the EU but we won’t be in a customs union or a single market. It’s not uncertainty that’s the problem it’s that the reality is so shocking it’s difficult to accept.
This is the Brexit election. It was called because of Brexit. It will define Brexit and all of the parties have Brexit at the core of their manifestos.
The Conservatives are asking us to back a hard Brexit. Lowering immigration at the core and would come at the expense of a trade deal if necessary. In Theresa May’s Lancaster House speech in January, when she warned that “no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal”.
Labour wants a soft Brexit. Keir Starmer MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, set out Labour’s approach to Brexit: “We will scrap the Government’s Brexit White Paper and replace it with fresh negotiating priorities that…will have a strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the Single Market and the Customs Union”.
A vote The Liberal Democrats leaves the option to Remain. Leader Tim Farron said ” the Liberal Democrats are committed to keeping Britain in the single market. We believe the British people should have the final say on the Brexit deal, including the option to remain in the EU”.
That’s right, we can remain in the EU if enough people vote for the LibDems but the polls say that’s not happening. Perhaps people don’t understand or believe that we have the democratic option to reverse a decision that was more about the political ambitions of a bunch of old Etonians than it was about the future the 65 million.