Parliament to Johnson: No quick elections; Update: House of Lords approves Brexit delay

Clever. Completely impractical, but clever:

UK opposition parties have agreed not to back Boris Johnson’s demand for a general election before the EU summit in mid-October.

Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP and Plaid Cymru say they will vote against the government or abstain in Monday’s vote on whether to hold a snap poll.

The SNP’s Ian Blackford said they wanted to make sure the UK did not “crash out” in a no-deal Brexit.


Chalk this up to the “if my opponents want it I’m agin it” strategy of politics. Boris Johnson has been aiming at snap elections for weeks, and hoped to force his opponents into demanding it. That was a big reason why Johnson chose to prorogue Parliament for several weeks, apart from blocking their access to the legislative calendar. The game got a little too threadbare for Johnson to pretend he was being forced into elections, but he believes that the Tories can win an election if Brexit is the only issue at stake.

He may or may not be correct, but an election would run out the clock for any alternatives to a no-deal Brexit, which is what Johnson really wants. That’s why the opposition will refuse to vote for snap elections, which require two-thirds of Parliament to approve. Labour and SNP in particular want to push through their Brexit-extension mandate first before holding elections:

But opposition parties, including the Labour Party, said they would either vote against or abstain until a law aiming to block a no-deal Brexit is implemented.

A Labour Party source said it would not back Johnson’s bid on Monday for an election under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.

“We will have that election when the time is right but I will make you this promise, we are not going to have a long wait,” Ian Blackford told BBC television, adding that his opposition Scottish National Party (SNP) party would oppose Johnson’s bid on Monday.


The problem with this is that it’s all tactics and no strategy. Yes, it will frustrate Johnson not to get his elections before the EU summit. However, the opposition’s plan would still leave Johnson in charge. Do they expect Boris Johnson to advance Parliament’s position on an extension or to stick by his pledge to leave on October 31? Take three guesses, but the first two don’t count.

One can disagree with Daniel Hannan’s overall assessment on the state of Brexit this week, but Hannan nails this particular point:

On Wednesday afternoon, MPs passed a motion obliging the government to seek as many extensions as the EU wanted. Boris Johnson, the prime minister, responded by calling for a general election. Whereupon Labour, which has been demanding an immediate poll for two years, suddenly went cold on the idea. Under legislation passed in 2010, two thirds of MPs must agree to an early dissolution of Parliament. On Wednesday evening, Labour and the other opposition parties, looking at the opinion polls, voted against such a dissolution.

Yes, you read that correctly. The parties that have spent the past month accusing Johnson of mounting some sort of coup just voted to prevent him from subjecting his tenure to a national vote.

The House of Commons has thus put itself in a ridiculous position. Pro-EU MPs have voted to keep in office a government they have calculatedly undermined. They have done so for the sole purpose of overturning a referendum result which they had previously promised to uphold. That, my friends, is our political crisis in a nutshell.


That’s not the whole story, but it covers the election debate pretty accurately, anyway. Parliament (or at least the Commons) will pass a bill demanding an extension while leaving the Prime Minister who’s adamantly opposed to asking for one in charge of negotiations. The silliest part of this is thinking that denying the elections will hurt Johnson’s overall aims. It practically guarantees a no-deal Brexit, if such an outcome wasn’t already pretty much guaranteed already.

The only way to settle this is an election. It should have taken place when Theresa May couldn’t get a majority to back her Withdrawal Agreement in March, which was as much a no-confidence vote as one would see without being explicitly labeled as such. That was the time to go back to the voters for better direction on whether a no-deal Brexit was preferable to more delay and negotiation. The clock has run out on that question now, but the nature of Brexit after a crash still needs clarification from British voters.

If Johnson’s opposition really wanted to frustrate the PM, they could try passing May’s Withdrawal Agreement. That would give everyone some breathing room to negotiate the Irish border situation and the political principles for a post-Brexit relationship with the EU, and would leave Johnson cut out of the loop until an election. It’s surprising that the option isn’t getting at least some consideration.


Update: I’m genuinely surprised at this news:

Johnson and his allies had insinuated that they could bottle up the bill in Parliament’s upper chamber for a good long while. Brexiters need it stalled until prorogation in order to keep it from taking effect. They gave up on procedural obstacles yesterday, but the quick passage is still surprising. It won’t force Johnson to act any differently (which is why he stopped attempting to block it), but it might be an indication that the Brexiters don’t have the clout they assumed.

The House of Lords passed it without a formal final vote:

The British parliament’s upper chamber on Friday approved a bill which aims to block a no-deal Brexit at the end of October by forcing Prime Minister Boris Johnson to seek a delay to Britain’s European Union departure.

The legislation, which requires Johnson to ask for a three-month extension to Britain’s EU membership if parliament has not approved either a deal or consented to leaving without agreement by Oct. 19, is expected to be signed into law by Queen Elizabeth on Monday.

The House of Lords approved the bill without a formal vote at its final stage.

Johnson has dubbed it the “surrender bill” and said it has scuppered his Brexit negotiations with the EU by removing the threat of leaving without a deal. On Thursday he said he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than delay Britain’s EU exit.


Johnson will ignore the law, most likely, and triple-dog-dare his opposition to hold an election as a consequence.

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