Major foreign news involving parliamentary procedure, with all sorts of domestic political unknowns in the mix: It’s an ignorant American blogger’s worst nightmare. The sort of thing where you need to BS your way through 95 percent of the post instead of the usual 80.
The long and short of this afternoon’s vote, though, is that Boris Johnson has spent the past several weeks informing Parliament that his administration plans to leave the European Union as scheduled whether or not there’s a trade deal in place. And now Parliament is poised to inform him in return, “No, you will not.”
Until this very moment, I didn’t realize it was possible for a legislature controlled by the executive’s own party to refuse him on a major initiative. Except on ObamaCare, I mean.
Brexiteers have adamantly refused to hold a second referendum to see if British voters still want to follow through on leaving the EU, but now they may have to submit to the next best/worst thing — parliamentary elections as a sort of quasi-second referendum, with the future of Brexit in the balance.
After losing his first-ever vote as prime minister, Mr. Johnson stood up in Parliament and said he intended to present a formal request for a general election to lawmakers, who would have to approve the motion.
The lawmakers forced his hand by voting by 328 to 301 to take control of Parliament away from the government, giving themselves the authority to pass legislation that would stop the prime minister from his threat of a no-deal Brexit…
Opponents of a no-deal Brexit argue that Mr. Johnson’s promise to leave the bloc without a deal, if necessary, would be catastrophic for the British economy. Many experts say it could lead to shortages of food, fuel and medicine, and wreak havoc on parts of the manufacturing sector that rely on the seamless flow of goods across the English Channel. Leaked government reports paint a bleak picture of what it might look like.
Mr. Johnson says he needs to keep the no-deal option on the table to give him leverage in talks in Brussels, because an abrupt exit would also damage continental economies, if not as much as Britain’s.
I’m not clear on how leaving without a deal, which would make Britain instantly desperate for an economic lifeline, would strengthen Johnson’s negotiating hand but oh well. No fewer than 21 Tories (including Churchill’s grandson) crossed the aisle to vote against him today, with all expected to be expelled from the party. Parliament can now pass a bill that would force Johnson to negotiate on trade with the EU, effectively blocking Brexit until a deal is done. Alternately, Johnson could call snap parliamentary elections for next month, hoping that Brexiteers turn out en masse and give him a majority that’ll back him on a no-deal Brexit. The latest polling via Britain Elects:
Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party would obviously join with Johnson’s Conservatives to try to advance Brexit but a coalition of the other three parties would outnumber them based on the current data. And of course it’s conceivable that a backlash at the polls by Remainers to the endless turmoil might actually create a left-wing majority. Imagine if the Brexit referendum that passed in the UK a few years ago not only produced no Brexit in the end but *did* produce … Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn.
But that’s only if there’s an election. Johnson can’t call one without Parliament’s consent, which currently requires a two-thirds majority; the Times notes in its story that Labour might withhold that consent, believing that it’s unlikely to win and that it’d be better to see Johnson weakened and forced to negotiate with the EU at Parliament’s behest. Would Johnson even remain as PM in that case or would he quit, having failed to marshal his party in support of his agenda? To make things even more confusing, the NYT claims that Johnson’s administration might propose to change the law requiring two-thirds approval for a snap election to one requiring a simple majority instead. Does he have the numbers to pass that legislation right now?
It’s enough to make a man appreciate the tranquility and partisan good cheer of Trump-era America. Here’s Johnson facing defeat this afternoon. Stand by for updates.
— Bloomberg Politics (@bpolitics) September 3, 2019
Update: A good question this morning from Ed. If Parliament blocks Johnson’s call for a new election, what incentive would the EU have to negotiate with him on a trade deal? He’s the head of a minority government. What confidence would they have that he could deliver ratification of the terms?
Update: The electoral projections right now aren’t great for Brexiteers.
Updated House of Commons Map:
CON (289) + DUP (10)
LAB (247) + SNP (35) + LDM (15) + IND (30) + TIGFC (5) + TIN (5) + PLC (4) + GRN (1) + BSJ (+1)
SF (7) + Speaker (1)
Excluding Deputy Speakers (2 LAB, 1 CON), Opposition Majority = 43 pic.twitter.com/SIjHNHyzdl
— Election Maps UK (@ElectionMapsUK) September 3, 2019
Update: Churchill’s grandson, Nicholas Soames, will be kicked out of his grandfather’s party tomorrow.
Sir Nicholas Soames MP confirms to #Newsnight that he will not stand in the next general election.
“I have been told by the chief whip… that I have had the whip removed after 37 years as a Conservative MP."
— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) September 3, 2019