Writing About Brexit: Will There Be A No-Confidence Vote?

This was first posted on Facebook on 19th August 2019, and posted here with support from my Ko-Fi network.

At the moment, Boris Johnson has 311 MPs.

He also has, for now, 10 DUP MPs.

As a practical matter of fact, while officially a majority in the HoC is 326 (650/2 +1) in actuality it’s 322 ((650 – (7 Sinn Féin MPs + 1 Speaker)/2).

Quite unofficially, for all votes ensuring the UK Brexits on 31st October 2019, he has perhaps a dozen other MPs of other parties who are such extremist Brexiters they’ll vote for a Tory rather than with their own party.

The summer recess ends in just over a fortnight: on Tuesday 3rd September 2019. This is a short sitting – though the date hasn’t been announced, the Commons has another recess due for conference season on (probably) Thursday 12th September.

Boris Johnson can lose a vote of no confidence – given 321 MPs bound to support him – if and only if all of the MPs of all other parties and none vote against him *plus* at least one Tory defector.

That is: Labour (247), SNP (35), LibDem (14), Change UK (5), Plaid Cymru (4), and one Green – 306 MPs – and all 15 independents makes the total 321.

In the event of a tie, the Speaker’s role is to cast his tie-breaking vote (the only time the Speaker ever votes in the House of Commons is if there’s a draw) in favour of further debate, or if no further debate is possible. in favour of the status-quo.

If Johnson loses a vote of no-confidence in the first week of September, the leader of the second-largest party in the Commons – that is, Jeremy Corbyn / Labour – has ten working days to form a government.

If Corbyn can’t form a government within that time period, there is a second vote of no-confidence and Parliament is dissolved and a general election called. Boris Johnson would remain in 10 Downing Street as acting Prime Minister (traditionally, he should resign, but he has already made clear he won’t) until the next government is formed after a general election.

Because of the timescale of holding a general election and electing a new Parliament, it would be after 31st October 2019 before the next Parliament sits – and it would therefore be the acting Prime Minister who should send a request to the EU for Brexit to be delayed. So all Johnson would have to do to ensure no-deal Brexit would be to refuse to send that request.

Which means that (assuming Johnson does lose that vote of no-confidence in September, or even more crucially, if he loses a no-confidence vote in October after conference) – it is absolutely crucial to form a government with a caretaker PM to get Boris Johnson out of Downing Street before 31st October.

The consitutional and numerically-logical choice of that caretaker PM would be Jeremy Corbyn. He is the leader of the second-largest party in the Commons, and which would be the largest party in the temporary alliance after a no-confidence vote.

Nicola Sturgeon has acknowledged this, but she is the only party leader to do so: Jo Swinson and Caroline Lucas and Anna Soubry have all in different ways come up with a reason for refusing Corbyn the status. (I don’t know if Adam Price has made a statement one way or another.)

Corbyn’s attitude towards Brexit has been dubiously-enthusiastic and fantasist all along (no, there was never any possibility of Labour negotiating their own sparkly-unicorn Brexit deal) and he is still talking about having a general election as his first priority once in Downing Street, which is likely to result in the hungest of hung Parliaments and not resolve Brexit: but the thing about such a rainbow collection of MPs is that Corbyn could be bound as a caretaker PM of such an obviously-temporary government, to do very little.

The bare minimum would be, in fact, probably also the maximum defector-Tories, Labour, SNP, LibDems, Plaid Cymru, Change UK, a Green, and a motley assortment of Independents could agree on:

– To send a request for an extension for Brexit past 31st October into 2020;

– To legislate (this would take a minimum of six months) a second referendum, a Yes / No choice remaining in the EU or leaving by ratifying the already-negotiated Deal;

– To act on the result of the referendum – either by ratifying the Deal and Brexiting if a majority vote for that, or by revoking Article 50 and remaining in the EU on the same terms as before;

– To ensure, as they say, that the Queen’s Government is carried on, by passing an interim budget as required (since this will take us over the end of the financial year).

– And, within 12 months but after the second referendum has taken place and been acted upon. to call GE2020 and dissolve Parliament.

Now it is possible – such is the flexibility of the UK’s uncodified Constitution – for the caretaker PM to be someone other than the leader of the Opposition. Caroline Lucas has offered an ingenious if whitebread solution: Jo Swinson has suggested some more; I think Anna Soubry suggested Kenneth Clarke, which is not intrinsically a bad idea, but – by the usual rules, it ought to be Jeremy Corbyn.

And no one seems to have come up with any good reason why it shouldn’t be Corbyn, aside from the irrational hate they bear him such that they claim to prefer crashing out in No Deal Brexit with Boris Johnson as caretaker PM.

So that’s where we are.

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