Here we go: the unofficial election campaign has begun. On Monday, the bill passed by the “rebel” MPs will receive royal assent, aimed at putting the brakes on the push towards a no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31. As a result, Boris Johnson will try again to do what he failed to achieve on Wednesday night: call for new elections on Oct. 15. There’s no doubt now that there will be early elections, but when? Before or after Oct. 31?
This is the new dilemma, as the opposition wants to delay as much as possible. Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t want to vote for the new elections because Johnson might have one last trick up his sleeve: he might push the election date to after Oct. 31, when the country risks finding itself alone in a row boat on the Brexiteers’ quest to dominate the seas of the global economy. All this while the string of four consecutive defeats in Parliament that Johnson suffered at the start of his tenure as prime minister leaves him with no other option than to try to hasten early elections as much as possible.
He must make one last desperate attempt at getting early elections approved by Parliament before it shuts down for over a month next week, until Oct. 14, on Johnson’s own initiative (the government has to decide when this vote will be held, whether on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday). Johnson was defeated the first time around, needing the support of two-thirds of the Commons, including the opposition, who didn’t trust him on the crucial issue of the date of the new elections. Now, he’s counting on the Labour Party giving their agreement. They should be reassured by the passage of the “rebels’” bill—or the “surrender bill,” as the prime minister likes to call it, according to his lazy warmongering imagery. Johnson mocks the “cowardice” of those in the Labour Party who are supposedly trying to obstruct the will of the people.
The decision to stop the attempt to filibuster the bill in the Chamber of the Lords was, in this sense, a way to remove the Labour Party’s main excuse for delaying the elections. However, there will most likely be a delay after all, since both the right and left wings of the party seem determined to postpone the elections until the possibility of a no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31 has been taken off the table entirely (for example, after having obtained a postponement of the deadline from Brussels, pushing the Brexit date back to January 2020). In this regard, John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor and veteran Corbyn loyalist, has said there are ongoing talks among the opposition about the best election date.
In order to break the deadlock and call early elections on his terms, Johnson could also try to circumvent the Fixed Term Parliament Act, the law that forces him to get the assent of two-thirds of Parliament, which he has not been able to achieve so far: he would only need a simple majority to pass an alternate law, but even if he wins, there would be no time for the bill to pass through both Houses before Parliament is suspended according to his own prorogation, which is showing itself to be more and more of a self-defeating move.
The third, and highly surreal, option Johnson has is to file a no-confidence motion against himself, forcing Corbyn into the suicidal political position of being the opposition leader who votes to uphold the ugliest and most extreme right-wing conservative government in history. However, according to the FTPA, it is the prerogative of the opposition to file such a motion. And even if Johnson did it, and lost the vote as intended, there would be a period of two weeks in which the other parties could form another government before calling the people back to the polls. If such a government actually forms, all this will turn out to have been a suicidal move on Johnson’s part. Not to mention that the election could produce a “hung parliament,” that is, one without any majority, which would be about as effective as a suspended one.
Meanwhile, the sword of Brexit continues to divide families: the Remainer Jo Johnson, the not-at-all-nepotistically named universities minister in his brother’s government, has resigned amid an expression of general sympathy. Brussels is looking on, while the bridges with the EU have been intentionally blown up by the prime minister’s actions, with Michel Barnier cancelling a visit to Belfast that had been scheduled for Monday.
In the political world turned topsy-turvy by Brexit, a prime minister is doing everything possible to call early elections he says he doesn’t want, while the opposition leader has been calling for them for two years, but suddenly doesn’t want them right now. More proof that everything is possible after all.
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