This was first posted on Facebook on 4th September 2019, with support from my Ko-Fi network.
Yesterday (see both of yesterday’s posts, here and here), Boris Johnson became the first Prime Minister since Archibald Primrose in 1894 to lose his first vote in the House of Commons. (And all of the Primrose government’s legislation was blocked by the House of Lords.)
Which means that today, Boris Johnson is anticipating a debate in the House of Commons on a bill that will force him by UK law as prime minister to write to the EU to ask for an extension on Brexit Day if the UK is about to crash out in no deal Brexit.
Boris Johnson had a majority of 1 yesterday morning, lost that one as homophobic Tory MP Philip Lee crossed the floor to join the Libdems, and then might have lost 21 more Tory MPs had he followed through on his threat to remove the Whip from them all for voting to debate the bill today.
What I gather each one has been told, separately, is they haven’t lost the Whip yet – but they will if they don’t vote with the government tonight.
(Update: this was what I understood to be the case, but in fact the Whip has already been withdrawn from the 21 Tory rebels – the Current State of the Parties website has been updated to reflect that the Tory party at present has only 289 MPs.)
By the numbers, Boris Johnson would need to win back 14 Tory MPs by this strategy for the bill to lose tonight, but in fact he probably doesn’t need that many – only two Brexiter Labour MPs voted with the government yesterday, but more Labour rebels may well do so tonight as this bill isn’t just about giving Boris Johnson a bloody nose by forcing the right for Parliamentary debate: this bill legally prevents no-deal Brexit from ever happening unless the EU force it on us by denying an extension – or unless a Brexiter-majority government repeals it.
To be clear, while I think this bill has a good chance of passing the Commons tonight, it is still quite possible that it won’t.
Boris Johnson’s options are – if he can’t win in the Commons tonight:
– To have a general election in October. But he may have boxed himself out of time for this to make any difference if the bill tonight passes.
Parliament is to be prorogued next week. The goal of the Rebel Alliance is to make this bill law.
Boris Johnson intends to have either a Queen’s Speech or a general election on Monday 14th October, and thinks he will go off to the EU Summit on the 17th with the UK government in his pocket.
If he has a Queen’s Speech on the 14th with no GE, Johnson has himserlf seriously depleted the ranks of Tory MPs so that his Queen’s Speech may not even pass the Commons. (It has to be voted on, and indeed getting a majority vote for your Queen’s Speech is how a new Prime Minister proves he has a government.)
If he has a general election on the 14th, Johnson will be dealing with a hung parliament and desperately negotiating with the DUP and The Brexit Party Ltd MPs to form a majority government, and these negotiations are quite likely to take Johnson into the following weekend.
Just as Boris Johnson intended the prorogation of Parliament to cut the time in which his opponents could act to stop No-deal Brexit, he has equally cut the time in which he could repeal this bill if it becomes an Act of Parliament.
Apparently one way in which Boris Johnson is considering preventing it becoming an Act is by appointing over a hundred Brexiter peers to the House of Lords so that they will block this bill there. (Lord Fowler, Speaker of the House of Lords, mentioned this yesterday: he wasn’t happy about the idea.)
Another way would be to try to prevent the Bill receiving Royal Assent before prorogation. (That would be entirely unconstitutional, of course.)
Another way would be to try to ban the rebel Tories from the Commons chamber so that they *cannot* vote. (Seems unlikely the Speaker, John Bercow, would let that happen.)
Or of course Johnson could un-prorogue Parliament by so advising the Queen, and give himself another few weeks to take action.
We’l see. I think Johnson will likely continue to push for a general election – he has announced he’ll table a motion under the Fixed Term Parliament Act for today, but Corbyn has already said Labour will vote against that unless the Bill is passed. Bad idea anyway – Johnson may be lying about the 14th October date. He could just as easily set the date for 24th October – which is a Thursday, and would equally cut into the time for the PM to send the extension letter, and into Parliamentary time for debating Brexit.