This was first posted on Facebook on 25th September 2019, with support from my Ko-Fi network. Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General, who advised Boris Johnson that proroguing Parliament for 5 weeks was legal, had a momentary fit of wtfitis in the Commons today:
I would agree with him that parliament has to determine the terms on which we leave, but this parliament has declined three times to pass a withdrawal act, with which the opposition – in relation to the withdrawal act – had absolutely no objection.
Then we now have a wide number of this house setting its face against leaving at all. And when this government draws the only logical inference from that position, which is that it must leave therefore without any deal at all, it still sets its face, denying the electorate the chance of having its say in how this matter should be resolved.
This parliament is a dead parliament. It should no longer sit. It has no moral right to sit on these green benches …
They don’t like to hear it Mr Speaker. Twice they have been asked to let the electorate decide upon whether they should be allowed to sit in their seats, while they block 17.4 million people’s vote. This parliament is a disgrace.
Given the opportunity, since I am asked, let me tell them the truth: they could vote no confidence at any time, but they are too cowardly. They could agree to a motion to allow this house to dissolve but they are too cowardly.
This parliament should have the courage to face the electorate. But it won’t, because so many of them are really all about preventing us leaving the European Union at all.
But the time is coming, the time is coming Mr Speaker, when even these turkeys won’t be able to prevent Christmas.
Cox also said “Yes” when asked if the Government would comply with the Benn Act (the No to No Deal Brexit Act, given Royal Assent in the last hours before Parliament adjourned on Monday 9th September).
If not for the Fixed Term Parliament Act, Boris Johnson could call a general election. But he can’t, because he can’t muster 2/3rds support of the Commons, because no one remotely trusts him to fix the date – and if he wins by a 2/3rds majority, he has that right.
Jeremy Corbyn can call a vote of no-confidence in the Government any time he wants to, but he isn’t, because it is paramount to everyone *except* Boris Johnson & his vulture pals that he doesn’t get to have a general election before 31st October while he could use it to campaign on a platform of “crash out with no deal on 31st October”.
The moment Johnson loses a vote of confidence he becomes a sort of caretaker-PM himself – he is not, says the Cabinet Manual about PMs and government ministers in this kind of situation, allowed to launch any new policy or make any large, binding decisions for the UK or do anything except carry on the country’s necessary business. But this is “by convention”, and I have to admit, having slept on it, that I wouldn’t trust Boris Johnson to be prevented from doing whatever he feels like just because it’s “convention” he shouldn’t.
I don’t see any way he can circumvent the Benn Act, but I wouldn’t call fears that Johnson *might* manage to do so groundless.
If Johnson wins a 2/3rds vote in the Commons for a general election, he can set the date to suit himself *but* he must allow 17 working days between dissolution of Parliament and election day. If he doesn’t, the Electoral Commission would rule the election itself invalid.
What that means for campaigning on a no-deal Brexit platform is that Johnson *has* to win a 2/3rds vote by 4th October at latest – any later than that, and he cannot hold a general election before 31st October.
Johnson can quite licitly prorogue Parliament on 3rd October, in advance of a Queen’s Speech on the 14th. It may look a little self-contradictory, but he won’t care.
The LibDems have mentioned trying to get Boris Johnson to send that extension letter sooner, but he won’t. If he thinks he has found some loophole, we’ll know on 19th October when the letter isn’t sent. This can assuredly be fixed, whatever it is, but I don;t say they’re wrong to hold off having a VONC til after the letter’s sent. That would be 22nd October, probably. Or could be later. But, if 22nd October, the 14 days plus 35 working days required by the Fixed Term Parliament Act takes us to, er: Thursday 26th December – oops, a bank holiday!- also, isn’t there something else going on that week? Okay, Thursday 2nd January – oops, also a bank holiday! In Scotland.
In short, if Corbyn waits til 22nd October to call a vote of no-confidence, the very earliest we can have a general election is January 2020. If the weather looks bad, it may legitimately be postponed til February.