06.09.2019

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The Simple Politics guide to next week in Parliament.
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The week that was


Phew. It's Friday. Dear reader, we've made it. Today's going to be quiet, right? It's got to be. The Lords are going to pass the Withdrawal (Number 6) Bill - or the Rebel Alliance Bill as so many in the media would like to call it. That'll be done by 5pm. Apart from that, nothing is scheduled. 

Clearly, if you've been following events of the past few days, you'll know that nothing being scheduled is not the same as nothing happening. Yesterday was also scheduled to be a bit quiet, but we had Lib Dem defections, fraternal beef and fainting police graduates.

So. Let's take this opportunity to have a quick look back at what the last few days have thrown up, so we can begin to make sense of what's coming next.

Monday

There was no Parliament on Monday, but the tone was very much set.  The standout moment was the Prime Minister making a speech on the steps of Downing Street. Even with the microphone very close to him, we could hear protesters chanting in the background. Johnson's speech was pretty much about how he doesn't want an election, but we might have to have one if MPs don't behave themselves and do what he wants. Spoiler alert: They didn't behave themselves and do what he wants.

The reaction to this was very mixed, with various people working out the best approach. Corbyn told a rally he was ready, but a senior Labour minister told Newsnight that Labour wouldn't support a General Election.

In short, what happened was that Johnson issued an ultimatum and Opposition parties said they were going to call his bluff.

He also issued an ultimatum to his own party, telling MPs that they would be booted out the party if they voted against him. This was an attempt to restore some party discipline that was lost during the May years. Again, it wouldn't take long for this to fall apart.

You see, this is what both sides have been doing all week. They know there can only be one winner. We leave on October 31st with no deal or we don't. There is no middle ground. That means both sides need to go fishing in that murky constitutional water to find something that works.

Tuesday

In a week of drama, it was today that was the most dramatic. 

The anti no-deal gang needed to win a vote to take control of the agenda for Wednesday and push through a law that would stop us leaving the EU on October 31st with no deal.  It wasn't designed to stop no-deal altogether, just stop it next month. Even if successful, we could still leave with no-deal on January 31st 2020.

Boris Johnson really, really wanted to stop this Bill. He referred to it as 'Corbyn's Surrender Bill'. He told MPs that if this happened it would prevent him from being able to negotiate a deal. His team doubled down on the threat to expel Conservative MPs who voted against his party.

The day didn't start well for Johnson. As he got to his feet to give a statement on the G7 meeting / his Brexit plan, Dr Phillip Lee entered the chamber and sat on the Lib Dem benches. He had left the Conservative Party and in doing so reduced Johnson's majority to zero.

Of course, the day didn't really improve for the Prime Minister. Despite his best efforts, Team No No-Deal won the vote. 328 votes to 301.

As soon as the vote was done, Johnson repeated his desire for a General Election to decide whether he or Corbyn should go to this crucial EU meeting on 17th October. The 21 Conservative MPs who voted against the government were removed from the party, and Johnson's majority went to minus 42.

Wednesday

There were some important votes today, but with the vote won yesterday by the Rebel Alliance, it was clear that the BIl would pass. It was also, by now, clear that there was no way that Johnson would get the two-thirds of MPs he needed to get the General Election he didn't want.

Let's take a minute to look at what the Bill actually says: if we don't have a deal by 19th October (the Saturday after the big EU meeting) then the Prime Minister must send a letter (which is written for him in the text of the Bill itself) asking for an extension until 31st January 2020. 

As had been predictable all day, the Bill easily passed through all the Commons hurdles. Johnson then stood up and said we need an election because he couldn't have his hands tied in the negotiation process. The public need to be able to decide if they want him going to that big EU meeting or Jeremy Corbyn. 

Opposition parties (and ex-Conservative rebels), though, didn't support the plan. They want to ensure that no-deal is completely off the table for October 31st before an election in November.

The vote needed 400+ MPs to vote in favour and got fewer than 300. In his first 4 votes as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has lost all four. Tony Blair lost four votes in ten years.

Meanwhile, over in the Lords, there was a battle going on. Aware that Members of the House of Lords who quite fancy a no-deal Brexit might try to talk the Bill out. Give speeches so long that time would run out.  For that reason a motion to put time limits on things was being debated. It was this motion that then became the focus of talking out - known as filibustering. Over 100 amendments (or changes) were put down. It looked like the debate would literally last all night. 

At around 1.30am, though, Johnson agreed to allow the Bill through the Lords unopposed, so the filibuster was called off. 

Thursday

As I mentioned at the start of this email, today was supposed to be relatively quiet. The no no-deal Bill was slowly meandering it's way through the Lords. The Commons has a relatively quiet schedule. Easy.

Then Luciana Berger joined the Liberal Democrats. It wasn't a huge surprise because of Chuka Umunna, who had already paved the way from Labour to the Liberal Democrats via Change UK. It still strengthened the Lib Dem position as the party of Remain, esp with Dr Lee joining the day before.

A few minutes later, a much more surprising personnel change took place. Johnson's own brother, Jo, stepped down as a minister and as an MP. He said he was torn between family and country - the clear implication being that he thought that his sibling was doing things at odds with the best plan for the nation. This was a huge and personal loss for the PM. At a press conference later, almost all the questions from journalists referred to his brother. They all asked if his brother can't trust him, how can the country?

And, yes, we come to the press conference. Johnson wanted a backdrop of police graduates (are they called Police Academies in the UK? OR just in terrible US films?). The trouble was (apart from the enforced political neutrality of police officers), he was over an hour late. So the graduates had to stand for an hour plus. This led to one of them fainting behind him. 

The most important thing he said, though, was that he would rather 'die in a ditch' than as for an extension. He's already said he just won't do it. We're leaving on October 31st do or die.


Friday

Eventually, we've arrived at today. Although, the way this is going it may not still be today by time I finish this email.

With little happening today, let's look at a few key questions we're left with:

What will Boris Johnson do if he can't get his election?

He's said he won't ask for the extension that will be required by law on 19th October. He will have a choice. Will he break the law, and risk being physically arrested, or will he break his word and risk losing his credibility? Neither option looks very appealing.

Perhaps he would go with breaking the law. He would, presumably, be a hero and a martyr to Brexiteers across the country. I'm not sure of what sentence is attached to not sending a letter to the EU, when instructed to do so by the law.  It hasn't come up in any of the cop shows I've seen. 

I've seen suggestions that could ask someone else to ask the EU, but surely he can't do that and keep his credibility. 

Without that election, it really does look like his strategy this week has boxed him into a corner. He's a clever man, with clever advisors. It will be interesting to see how he gets himself out of this one.

Will there be a General Election next month?

The extension Bill will have passed its Parliamentary hurdles today. The law will be that no deal is off the table. Does that mean that condition has been met and that Opposition parties will now vote for an election on Monday (when the motion returns to the Commons)?

I'd say it's unlikely but possible. Opposition party leaders have a conference call today to work out a united front on this.

Arguments for are that it's an election and Opposition parties always want elections. A chance to get rid of (as they see it) this terrible Conservative government. A chance to re-write the future of the country. That Bill should keep us safe from the no-deal Brexit these parties are seeking to avoid.

Arguments against are that, if Johnson won, he could just repeal that Bill with his new majority and still leave with no-deal on October 31st.  That an election might return another hung Parliament and nothing will have been achieved. That there is still too much uncertainty. Also, there is clearly an appetite from those parties to see what Johnson does in response to the first question. Keep him in Downing Street and watch his world crumble, then have an election and soar to victory.

As I say, I think they'll decide to vote against.

Will there be a General Election in November?

Yes. Or at least in the next 6 months, without a doubt.

Johnson always wanted to wait until after he'd taken us out the EU. By then he will have (from his perspective) negated the need for a Brexit Party, united the country by finally delivering on the 2016 referendum result, outsmarted his political opponents in the Commons. Of course, that is looking more tricky now, but he's got a majority of minus 44, including 10 DUP MPs. He needs to win an election if he's going to be able to do anything at all as Prime Minister. Win, and he can spend the next 5 years doing all the things he's always wanted to.

Corbyn has been calling for an election since about 5 minutes after the last one in 2017. He's desperate to get another crack at becoming Prime Minister.

Sturgeon and Blackford of the SNP are eyeing up all the current Conservative seats in Scotland, they think they can take every one of them back this time, so they're positively elated at the idea.

Swinson of the Liberal Democrats also thinks an election once 31st October is safely out the way is the best thing. She's had two MPs join this week alone, is doing well in the polls and must believe that now is her chance.

Everyone agrees. That's rare these days. An election is coming, people. Get ready.
The wonderful kids show I do withe the excellent Tiernan Douieb has a couple of London dates in the next few weeks.
Back out in the rest of the country soon after.
Jackson's Lane tickets
Art's Depot

The Week Ahead. 


Sunday - London readers with children! My family, comedy politics show - that I do with the wonderful and talented Tiernan Douieb is coming to the Jackson's Lane Theatre in Highgate at 12pm and 3pm. Join us!

Monday - This was going to be the big day in Parliament. The day that MPs would debate motions about Northern Ireland.  Way back in history (approx last week), this was going to be how the extension Bill was to be inserted. By amending one of these motions. That was then, though, and this is now. Instead, we'll be told that the Northern Ireland Assembly is still not up and running and MPs will express their dissatisfaction about that.

The last action of the day, though (probs around 8 o'clock) will be debating this General Election on Tuesday 15th October. There will be a vote at around 10pm. Again, Johnson will need 400+ votes in order to avoid yet another defeat. Whether Opposition parties vote for an election this time is yet to be determined. If they do, the PM will get his vote passed and an election is on. If not, he hasn't got much hope at all.

Tuesday - Parliament is scheduled to be prorogued/suspended from today. That is not, however, set in stone. There is a chance that Johnson could decide not to prorogue until the end of the week. This would give him the opportunity to bring forward an election Bill that would not require two-thirds of MPs, just a majority.

The trouble with this is twofold:

1) he has no majority in the Commons, so it's possible that he can't get enough votes for this.

2) any Bill is amendable. MPs can put in changes if they want to. They could change the date, add conditions for Brexit or even change the voting age to 16.  These are not things that the Conservative leadership want to happen.

The other option being discussed is a no-confidence vote in themselves. Surely, the logic goes, Jeremy Corbyn et al wouldn't vote that they have confidence in this government? That would lead to an election, too. 

Again, it's not the perfect plan it might be. Here's why:

1) it's only 14 days after a no-confidence vote that an election is called, and there has to be 25 working days between an election being called and the election itself. That puts the earliest election date as Tuesday 29th (as we don't seem to care about the voting on Thursdays thing any more). This is way after the day that Johnson wants as the new government couldn't be formed in time to do anything about what happens on 31st October. 

2) In those 14 days another, alternative government could find it's way to having the confidence of the House. We could have Jeremy Corbyn (or Ken Clarke or Harriet Harman or goodness knows who else) as Prime Minister by 24th September. That's really not the plan.

Wednesday and beyond -  Parliament is supposed to be closed. It probably will be by now.  Still, events will continue apace. Expect the unexpected. David Davis to the Lib Dems? Corbyn photographed sharing a Mr Whippy with Dominic Cummings? A Simple Politics email with no typos? Don't rule anything out. Except for the last one.

 
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