Brexit and the governing party

14th June 2019

Pandemonium, John Martin, 1841


The United Kingdom has an Article 50 extension until 31st October 2019, and it is wasting its time.

One particular of this is the current leadership contest in the governing Conservative party.

Many of the candidates support, or can accept, a “No Deal” Brexit.

The political support for these “No Deal” candidates is an index of how little has been learned by the governing party over the last three years about Brexit.

It is almost as if Brexit has not unfolded the way it has, in front of them.

The denialism and delusion is rampant.

The United Kingdom is likely to get the “No Deal” Brexit its governing party deserves, regardless of the suffering and chaos this will bring.

To watch this play out in real-time is depressing, but there seems little that can be done.

The problems and choices have been explained again and again, the European Union has been consistent and plain, the difficulties – including in respect of the Irish border – have been described in detail.

But the MPs of the governing party – and some other MPs and many pundits – do not care for such inconveniences.

They are going to “press on” anyway.

The only hope for sensible people if a “No Deal” candidate wins the leadership election is that, to become Prime Minister, that new leader also has to have the “confidence’ (that is, a sustainable majority) of the House of Commons.

And the majority of the House of Commons is (or at least was) for avoiding a “No Deal” Brexit.

That the new leader of the Conservatives becomes – or stays as – Prime Minister is not automatic or necessary.

There are conceivable scenarios where another politician, who wishes to avoid a “No Deal” Brexit, could have the confidence of the House of Commons, with a coalition.

Or, alternatively, a “No Deal” Prime Minister could be checked and balanced by the Commons.

Or, it could all be a dreadful disaster.


Thank you for reading me on this new(ish) blog, where I am hoping to blog almost daily now I am back from a break.

I expect to be blogging here more often, instead of spending time on Twitter.

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Comments are welcome but pre-moderated, and they will not be published if irksome.









19 thoughts on “Brexit and the governing party”

  1. I would be interested in your assessment of the constitutional position regarding the monarch, specifically the procedure she must use to ascertain whether a new leader of the Conservative party does actually command a majority in the HoC.

    1. One would presume that. were there to be a motion of ‘no confidence’ tabled, the Sovereign would summon no-one until the outcome was resolved.

      1. What is Parliament is in recess? Does Mrs May carry on until the new parliamentary session starts?

  2. It’s good to hear that there is a scintilla of hope. If only we could rely on all the opposition parties to act in concert.

  3. Ivan Lewis MP says the vote this week was not the last opportunity to stop a no deal Brexit. He may be right but that’s not really the point or is it? Why do our representatives love leaving major decisions to the 11th hour? As a lawyer I’m sure you are well acquainted with this. But this is not a negotiation anymore is it?

  4. A race against time will be at hand when the next PM is selected by the Tories. A General Election before 31Oct can only be induced by a no-confidence vote some point in September or before iirc, due to the time required.

    If that fails, new anti-prorouging/anti-no deal legislation may need attempting (but that mightn’t be possible.

    Labour’s failed vote a day or so ago wasn’t necessarily the last chance, but it was politically too inconvenient for Tories. An NCV might be the last chance we’ll see.

  5. Or they could refer the impending No deal back to the people who are not as stupid as their lawmakers and have caught on much quicker – if you call taking three years quicker.

    Of course, the new PM faced with Parliament enacting a statute requiring a referendum to approve No deal could throw his, (it has to be a him now) toys out of the pram and call a GE.

    Under our electoral system it is much easier to gain a majority in a GE than it would be in a referendum and with Labour continuing to face both ways on the question of leave or remain, it is very conceivable that a Tory party electorate united around Johnson could achieve such a majority.

    At which point we leave with No deal – after one last fig leaf attempt to persuade the EU not to let us.

    If Labour were to shift decisively in favour of leaving or remaining it will still haemorrhage tens of thousands of votes to the other side almost certainly giving them a victory and a majority. If leave will not be denied, and it seems it won’t, then leave we will and we will get the Brexit we deserve. Only then will the real fun begin!

  6. The other hope, of course, is that the man (we now know it will be such) that is elected is a mendacious self-serving coward. Such a man would realise that his long-term survival as PM and his “legacy” would not be served by allowing a crash-out Brexit. He would weigh his short-term options regarding his party, who would not be able to defeat him, against parliament and the country in a General Election, which would. And he would let down his many ardent brexiteer backers in order to maintain his own status, at least for long enough to make it into the (hopefully) calmer waters of normal government business. What are the chances of such a man being successful?

  7. Since the Tories didn’t win the election – one option for selecting a new PM would be to ask all MPs to vote on who they could serve under. They are all there by virtue of being elected, so it’s as reasonable as asking a handful of elderly mostly Southern England Tories who ought to be PM. It would inevitably lead to some sort of Coalition if anyone but a Tory candidate won, but could lead to a minority Labour Government.

  8. “To watch this play out in real-time is depressing, but there seems little that can be done.”

    Surely this constitutes the final and incontrovertible evidence (were more such needed) that the UK’s polity and constitution are hopelessly unfit for purpose in the modern world.

    I seem to have spent (too) much of my adult life explaining to foreign admirers of British Parliamentary Democracy that, like Victorian plumbing, it may well have been a marvel of its age but one really would rather not have to rely on it in one’s own home.

  9. David
    Perhaps it would be interesting to write an article on the likelihood of companies using a ‘force majeure’ clause to cancel contracts pre/post Brexit (assuming it ever happens)?

  10. There’s only one visible route now (presuming Boris wins) to avoid the calamity of ‘no deal’ crash out in October; an immediate vote of no-confidence (VoNC) in his new government. If he lost, I would imagine Boris will not acquiesce to the humiliating prospect of resigning within days of reaching number 10 and would instead stay on as PM (as Callaghan did when losing a VoNC in 1979), run down the 14 day clock and then fight the resultant election. As I understand it, there’s a minimum time during which he must then hold a general election but not a maximum time. Could he, for eg, lose a VoNC at the end of July and announce an GE for the beginning of November, citing the summer recess and party conference season? I’m not sure. But a general election, so long as it can be held before the end of October, would be our last chance of avoiding/delaying a disastrous ‘no deal’ Brexit.

  11. Imagine the House of Lords was an elected chamber. Let’s say instead of a referendum we’d had a full election to HL, but not HC, and that 52% of people voted Brexit candidates to HL. HC would then be squaring-off against another elected chamber, with as much legitimacy as them, but not the corresponding constitutional position and power.That’s something like the dynamic we are in. If that were the position, where would power flow to? I suspect that much like in 1910/11 we would see some sort of rebalance between the chambers, in process, practice and culture if not in law. Whoever represents the no-deal side will have this challenge with the representatives of the referendum faction.

  12. Of course, it would only take a handful of defectors (Lee, Boles, Grieve?) to remove the Conservative/DUP working majority. Presumably at that point the Queen would be well within her rights to ask the leader of the opposition to have a go at forming a government?

    Not saying he would be able to, nor that it would necessarily be a good thing, but surely this is possible?

  13. It was implicit in the referendum that a Leave vote would be followed by a period of negotiation, and implicit in the notion of negotiation is that either party may walk away. All these MPs saying no deal is not possible need to explain why they were happy to vote for a referendum, and then trigger A50, if they weren’t then happy for us to walk away if necessary.

    There isn’t a nice easy way out of this.

    1. Mr Dipper, I can see that you think this is a winning argument, but I’m afraid it falls apart at almost every word: what you’re doing here is little more than pushing around words on fridge-magnets until the runes seem to align with something with which you can feel happy.

      In particular, if you want to insist that this is a valid point, then I would suggest that you should consider *very* carefully not only what else might be “implicit in the notion of negotiation,” but also (as such a weak argument is quite a stretch) which issues were explicitly stated to be bound up in the negotiation by the official explanatory documents mandated (by the EU referendum Act 2015) to be presented to the Commons, and which other issues any outcome of such negotiations would self-evidently be obliged to address.

      Yes, MPs were undoubtedly stupid to vote for their own irrelevance as regards the mandate for the negotiations (and have just repeated a very similar error), but if you consider that act to provide support for the acceptability of a “No-deal” outcome, then it must provide vastly *greater* support for:
      1) Mrs May’s Withdrawal Agreement (in reality, rejected by record votes in the Commons);
      2) a Norway-lite style “vassal” status in perpetuity (explicitly proposed as an option in official documents framing the referendum, unlike “No-deal”);
      3) the so-called “Irish back-stop,” which is the only realistic solution agreed thus far to address the obvious conflict between maintaining the UK’s international treaty obligations under the GFA and the management of an external land border with the EU (though I suspect that you may well hope effectively to deny that this is an issue at all).

      1. I don’t think its a winning argument, I just don’t think that saying We Cannot Have No Deal is the winning argument for those proposing it they seem to think it is.

        My Leaver community is saying: Get Boris in No 10, call a GE on the back of Parliament refusing to take us out end October, Brexit Party to target Remain Tory MP’s, majority of Leavers in new Parliament and take us out No Deal. With the Proviso that at any stage the EU can renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement.

        It is risky, as the GE might not go the way Leavers want. But if you want to achieve your aims you need to take calculated risks. If you just yield to whatever pressure is on you at the time, the one place you are guaranteed to end up is not anywhere you wanted to be.

  14. I like this new format. I appreciate the wisdom, balance and wit of your commentary, but Twitter has been a most unpleasant place to visit for it, a bit like having to go into a sex shop to buy a quality newspaper.

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