Coup, prorogation, chaos - what happens next?

Jack Rydeheard explores the options left to Boris Johnson after yesterday's events in Parliament.

by Jack Rydeheard on 4 September 2019 09:08

It really has been a long and complicated couple of weeks.

When Boris Johnson announced that he would implement the traditional suspension of parliament for conference season, he came under heavy criticism. For we are in the biggest destabilised period of peacetime in history. The nature of the suspension didn’t help – normally this is a recess passed by Parliament itself.

MPs can not, however, stop parliament being prorogued.

Cue the cries of a coup from Remainers, Remoaners and the rest of the opposition to Boris – even some of his own MPs attempted to read him the riot act.

Skip forward a couple of days and we saw a new outrage, this time from the government benches. Yes, yet again the opposition would try to seize control of the parliamentary agenda.

Those who before lamented the shredding of the constitution stayed quiet when they again enacted via a loophole in Erskine May their newfound ability to rip the power away from the executive. The silence was deafening.

The scene was set, the vote would happen after an hours-long showdown yesterday.

Yet another twist was to come. Though unofficially, we got wind of a plan from Conservative Central office that they were to remove the whip from those who supported the bill fronted again by now former Tory grandee Sir Oliver Letwin. Following the surprise statement from Downing Street by the Prime Minister himself, his MPs were in a spectacular reversing of the day gone by allegedly read the riot act themselves – but would it work?

Not so.

A defeat of 27 votes, a majority albeit a slim one confirmed the fate of the parliamentary agenda for the coming days. 301 sided with the government – just two Labour MPs and 3 independents siding with the 296 strong force of the Tory-DUP alliance. But it wasn’t enough.

Extraordinary events were to follow. Less than twenty minutes after the vote the whip was withdrawn from all 21 Conservative rebels, leaving the government ruling in minority with 46% of the seats in the commons – and that’s if you include the DUP.

Such are the times, that the man who was chancellor just six weeks ago was thrown out of his party completely, courtesy of a phone call from the chief which allegedly lasted less than a minute having been re-selected as his local association’s candidate just two days ago.

Understandable is the fury from Tory High Command, to whom he pledged “wholehearted support” in a tweet just before he resigned as chancellor before helping to raze the credibility of the new PM’s negotiation strategy.

In a historically partisan system, we have been left with 36 independent MPs – the third largest grouping in the lower house.

But has Boris made a mistake?

Not only is he left further than ever before from a plausible working majority, he may well have accidentally handed the reins of power to Remain – for whom a rainbow coalition is possible if they can pull their act together.

Taking into account the Independents, the SNP, the Lib Dems, the Change UK grouping, Plaid Cymru and the Greens, 341 seats can be reached. United against Brexit, this is an unlikely but dangerous possibility moving forwards.

What can Boris do?

He has but one option. He must now call a General Election.

With the opposition ripping apart the constitution, seizing control from the Commons order paper (ironically after crying out against a ‘coup’ by Boris Johnson) and inevitably aiming to try to ram through a block on a No Deal Brexit, Boris has a few ways of triggering a General Election. Thankfully, he’s already announced that this is what he’s going to do.

He has five options.

First, he could just wait it out, see out another extension and hold an election as planned in 2022. But this is very unlikely given his announcement last night and would be electoral suicide when his party does eventually face the electorate.

Second, He could table a motion to hold a snap General Election under the Fixed Term Parliament Act. He would need 433 other MPs to back him, but this is perfectly possible given that Labour’s leadership have been crying out for a General Election for two long years, since they suffered a humiliating defeat in the last one.

Corbyn has also confirmed that he would definitely whip in favour of a General Election if the Commons succeeds in writing into law a block on No Deal. He couldn’t even begin to justify whipping to abstain or vote against it given his continuous badgering of the past two governments to hold one.

Failing this, Boris could simply drop a one line act into the Commons, leaving the Fixed Term Parliament Act in place and legislating for a General Election notwithstanding the current law. This requires just a simple majority.

He could, failing all of this, hold a Vote of No Confidence in his own government, which would be unprecedented given the potential reputational damage alongside the other negative connotations of his governance. This is very unlikely.

Finally, and the most unlikely but still possible option – Boris could go nuclear. This means voiding by revocation the Fixed Term Parliament Act completely, returning the power to call an election to the arsenal of the executive.

Given the state of rebellion in the House of Commons, this would be almost impossible.

However he tries to do it, what follows would be inevitable. More uncertainty.

With many sources saying that the election would have to be held before the European Council meeting on the 17th October, Boris would have to force yet another break of tradition and hold an election on either Monday 14th October or Tuesday 15th October, most probably the latter. Parliament would have to pass this and dissolve by 09th October to allow this to happen.

What a gamble…

With a block on No Deal anticipated to be enshrined in law before the dissolution of parliament, this puts at risk the very idea of Brexit itself. If Johnson fails to win, it could essentially be game over for Brexit.

To make sure he wins, he will have to fight off the Lib Dems and Labour, and the only way he can do this is by doing a deal with the Brexit Party. To get into bed with Farage on a no deal platform could see him gain a massive majority, potentially rivalling those of Blair and Thatcher.

A Brexit coalition would be justified, given the antics of the working coalition of Remain to snatch Leave-voting Brecon and Radnorshire in the recent by-election.

Wild times, unchartered territory, untamed seas of political precariousness lie waiting ahead.

Politics has become a literal game of thrones. We wait to see which army will steal the day.


Jack Rydeheard is the Greater Manchester Coordinator of the Taxpayers’ Alliance and sits on the Executive of Bury Conservative Association

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