Analysis: Topsy-turvy Brexit crisis reaches new levels of bewilderment – but it doesn’t have long left

Ben Wray

CommonSpace editor Ben Wray tries to get his head around the latest twist in the Brexit drama, finding that the one thing we can be certain of is a General Election is coming

TRY to get your head around this. The Prime Minister says he doesn’t want to hold an election, but that he will table a motion for an election. The opposition leader says he wants to hold an election, but will vote against a motion for an election. The PM has lost his majority, lost control of the order paper in the House, and is thus in office but unable to govern. But because the PM doesn’t have the votes to hold an election, he is about to be mandated by the House of Commons to ask the EU for an extension which he says he will not ask for. Got it? 

All things continuing on the current trajectory (unlikely), the Parliament will frog march Boris Johnson to Brussels, gagged and with a letter stuffed in his top pocket requesting a Brexit extension. Those who accused the PM of a coup a few days ago are now forcing him to stay in power against his will and without any actual power. 

If you think this is bizarre you’ld be right, but there is a logic to the thinking of ‘the rebel alliance’. With the parliament seemingly under control, they can pass their legislation for a Brexit extension and then call an election, safe in the knowledge that Johnson cannot fiddle with the date of the election in such a way that he manipulates it to force No Deal on 31 October. 

Johnson has said his preferred date for an election is 14 October, before the EU Council on 17 October. But the rebel alliance say that he can’t be trusted, and they want a guarantee of an election before No Deal in hard legal writing. 

READ MORE: What can Scotland expect from a snap General Election?

That position means Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is going to have to go through the embarrassing rigmarole of voting against an election on Thursday, after saying for at least two years that they are desperate for one to kick the prime minister and Tories out of office. But they won’t mind that embarrassment for a couple of days if they can get the legislation through and then quickly trigger an election. But will that happen? 

The PM’s team think there could be a way around the Fixed Term Parliament Act whereby a simple majority can trigger an election, while Tory rebel Dominic Grieve thinks the Brexit extension legislation can be done well before the proroguing of parliament next week. One side has got it badly wrong.

So time and Britain’s arcane parliamentary procedure is all in the mix, making it nigh on impossible to understand what will happen next. What can we say with any certainty? 

An election in the next eight to 12 weeks now looks totally inevitable. With the Tories 21 rebel MPs effectively kicked out of the party, Johnson is now well short of a majority to govern. That can’t last for long. Either an election happens before 31 October, or shortly after – but one will happen soon.

READ MORE: Analysis: The British constitution is broken – now it should be dismantled completely

Secondly, while it would be incredibly naive to look at opinion polls and confidently predict the result after recent upsets, what we can say with some confidence is that due to the the first-past-the-post system, the result is more likely to be closer to the 2017 election, where voters consolidated around either Labour or Tory, than the European Parliament election in May, where the vote split fairly evenly six ways. The Tories are likely to swallow most of the Brexit Party vote as it steals Farage’s clothes, though whether it swallows all of it may end up being critical. 

The big question mark is whether the Liberal Democrat vote will hold up, or if under the pressure of demands to unite to stop Johnson, the Remain vote swings behind Corbyn. In recent weeks, Corbyn has slid into the leadership position and put Jo Swinson in the shade somewhat. We know an election campaign will see voters polarise, but we don’t know exactly what shape that will take yet. The one (perhaps only) thing we can be sure of is SNP domination north of the border.

The topsy turvy Brexit crisis is not over – but it surely doesn’t have long left.

Picture courtesy of .craig

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