A Game of Brexit: The Plots and Tactics

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This week in British Politics began in what you would expect from Parliament: the Tories vehemently opposing a General Election and Jeremy Corbyn saying he would be delighted’ to fight one. But before you could say ‘Fixed-Term Parliaments Act’, the opposite was true, as Boris Johnson is now reluctantly vying for a General Election and Jeremy Corbyn is seemingly on the retreat from one. The scheming and plots of Parliament have bubbled to the top, there for the public to see. 

For the Prime Minister, his aim has been to force through a No-Deal Brexit, a scenario that is becoming more and more likely as the days pass. Although he argues that Parliament has stripped him from his negotiation position by passing a Bill obligating Johnson to take No-Deal off the table, the truth is that there was no negotiation position to begin with.

At least, that’s what the EU, the party on the other side of the table reported, saying that ‘no real negotiations‘ have taken place since Johnson entered Downing Street. Meanwhile, monetary preparations stand at £8.3 billion. £100 million is being spent on public awareness campaigns and reports say that Johnson’s plans to achieve a last-minute deal at a summit with the EU could be rebuffed as European leaders use it to prepare for a hard Brexit.

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The possibility of convincing Parliament to accept a No-Deal Brexit was dubious at best, as this week has shown. An extension with the EU to get a deal was impossible for Johnson as his integrity as a Brexiteer rests on the 31st of October. Both sides of the table came to a standstill over the backstop, keeping the lid firmly on the coffin of Theresa’s May dead deal, preventing resurrection and reform. The choices: a People’s Vote (yeah right), a General Election or circumvention of Parliament altogether.

Johnson attempted to present prorogation, the suspension of Parliament, as business as usual. Whilst it is lawful and a common parliamentary procedure, the move is overshadowed by Brexit, with many believing it to be an attempt to force through No-Deal, as MPs may not have had time after their return on the 17th October to prevent it.

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Coup or not, Philip Hammond, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, was correct in his prediction that the urgency of prorogation has quickened the pace of Parliament to stop a hard Brexit. MPs that may have wanted to give Johnson some time to strike a deal with the EU before moving to prevent a hard Brexit in late September, would now have to invert their timetables: ‘we will have to try to do something when Parliament returns next week’ Hammond said.

A vote compelling Government to rule out No-Deal came and went through the Benn Bill, along with 21 Conservative MPs, as they were booted out of the party for life after voting against Johnson. This was another controversial move, as Labour MP Jess Phillips railed against Tory MPs in the Commons, exclaiming ‘you’ve just sat by silently while your colleagues have been marched out’. Attempting to keep Government in line, Johnson’s majority was sacrificed and the vote was lost, which went to the House of Lords.

Tory Peers were accused of wrecking tactics after proposing over 100 amendments to a motion tabled by the Labour Leader of the House, Angela Smith. Debates in the House of Lords usually don’t have a timeline to them and so by filibustering the Benn Bill by giving other topics precedent over Brexit, Peers could have kept the debate going until Parliament became prorogued, stopping the attempts to delay Brexit. Staying until the early hours of Thursday, peers brought sleeping bags and toothbrushes, but the filibuster ended and the Bill passed on Friday so it can receive Royal Assent and become law next week.

Bear in mind that Michael Gove did not rule out the possibility that the Government would ignore a law to stop a No-Deal Brexit in an interview with Andrew Marr.

Now stands a General Election, but Jeremy Corbyn blocked Johnson’s Bill for one. ‘I can only speculate as to why he has chosen not to have a General Election‘, Johnson told ITV News, whilst tabloids accused Corbyn of being a chicken. So why has the man who’s seemingly constantly calling for one backing down this week?

For one, former Prime Minister Tony Blair described a General Election on Johnson’s terms as an ‘elephant trap’. This is because if there were an election scheduled for the 15th of October without No-Deal first blocked by Parliament, Johnson could have simply changed the election day to a date after the 1st of November.

During elections, Parliament is dissolved, so there would be no MPs to ask for an extension or assent to one offered by the EU, and Britain would have crashed out by default. Opposition parties could add amendments to the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, which triggers an election, to fix a particular date as voting day, but these are not legally binding. Such a bold plan of action would have been extraordinarily brave and anti-democratic, but the Government has dismissed this as ‘tin-foil hat stuff’. 

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But No-Deal will no doubt be blocked by MPs on Monday, which works well for Labour in an election. After all, the Prime Minister, who has built himself as the man to deliver Brexit ‘do or die’ Halloween, would no longer be able to campaign on that promise, leaving that message for Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party. A split vote between the Conservatives and the Brexit Party will likely be the result, crucial for Labour which due to the left-wing split is lagging behind in voting intention.

It is unclear whether Labour will support a General Election on Monday, but people are expecting one with more and more registering to vote.

But the Government seems to have one last trick up their sleeves, with one Tory aide allegedly reporting that the date of the election was chosen to squeeze the student vote as many will be unable to provide their term-time addresses until late September.

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