Top 3 developments
- The Supreme Court announced its unanimous verdict that it was unlawful for Boris Johnson to advise the Queen to prorogue Parliament.
- Parliament resumed on Wednesday where the Prime Minister faced numerous calls to resign.
- At Party Conference, Labour decided to remain neutral on Brexit at the next General Election.
Remainers Hale the Court’s Decision
Earlier this week the Supreme Court gave a unanimous verdict that not only was the issue of prorogation something that is capable of challenge in the courts but also that it was unlawful for Boris Johnson to advise the Queen to prorogue Parliament. The basis for this ruling was that the recent prorogation had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions. It was also noted that the normal suspension of Parliament ahead of a Queen’s Speech is 4-6 days and there was no explanation before the Court of why it was necessary to suspend Parliament for five weeks instead. As such, the Court concluded that the Prime Minister’s advice to the Queen was void and that Parliament has not been prorogued.
John Bercow released a statement calling for the House of Commons to convene again without delay. The House returned on Wednesday and Boris Johnson came under significant criticism for referring to the Supreme Court’s decision as “wrong” and arguing that MPs were trying to “sabotage” Brexit and “surrender” to Brussels. The Prime Minister refused to rule out proroguing Parliament again and attempted to pivot his failure onto criticism of his opponents, accusing them of jeopardising the Brexit process and being too cowardly to face the Conservatives in an election.
Boris Johnson is now facing pressure to resign from Opposition Parties, with all of the major leaders calling for him to ‘consider his position’. The Supreme Court’s decision has not only threatened Johnson’s standing as Prime Minister, but also that of the Conservative Party as many have argued that the process of prorogation has acted against the principles that should guide a Conservative administration and undermined the most important argument for electing Conservative governments: competence. This ruling could hinder the Conservatives’ prospects should an election be called in the near future. However, opposition parties are continuing to rule out an election until no-deal has been taken off the table or a Brexit extension has been formally agreed upon.
Boris Johnson returned to Parliament on Wednesday to a Parliament that was so volatile it reached boiling point. During the questions, Johnson remained defiant, dismissing MPs claims that his divisive language had led to them receiving death threats as “humbug”, repeatedly calling for a General Election and accusing Corbyn of “running scared.”
In a strange and frankly unparalleled state of affairs, Parliament is in a position where the PM is goading MPs to call a vote of no-confidence in his Government – triggering a General Election – but they won’t. This technically suggests that they do have confidence in his Government and consequently in his ability to secure a Brexit deal, which of course is about as far from the truth as you can get. But MPs are calling for the PM to resign, but refuse to sack him, and are calling for a unity Government but cannot unite behind the Leader of the Opposition.
Johnson recognises the hypocrisy here, and is clearly pivoting for a ‘people vs Parliament’ election. He believes that people will see MPs’ efforts to frustrate his actions as thinly veiled attempts to delay Brexit for as long as possible. He will be hoping that the people will see the paralysis of Parliament as evidence that they are the problem, and that Boris is the only person trying to respect the referendum result. Boris also knows that he has Dominic Cummings onside – whose standing has admittedly been damaged by the backfiring of the prorogation of Parliament – but nevertheless is a highly effective political campaigner who catalysed 17.4 million voters to back Leave. Johnson is seemingly very confident that Cummings can catalyse these voters to go back to the polls and vote for the Conservatives instead of the Brexit Party, who he has refused to make an electoral pact with. But, for now, it seems that there will be no election until after the EU Summit at least.
Put your hands up for Brighton
The Labour Party on Tuesday confirmed its new Brexit position at its annual Party Conference in Brighton. Labour’s Brexit position is now that the Party would campaign to renegotiate the current Withdrawal Agreement, would put this deal to a referendum, and would remain neutral on the deal until a special conference where Labour’s position would be unveiled. This would mean that in any upcoming General Election Labour would have a neutral position on Brexit.
This was by no means a unanimous decision from the Party, and reflected the overall mood of a Conference which succeeded in dividing the Party more than uniting it. The tone was set at the very start of the Conference where Tom Watson faced an unsuccessful attempt to oust him as Deputy Leader, led by the pro-Corbyn pressure group Momentum. The Conference also saw senior Shadow Cabinet members offering full-throated calls for Labour to be an unequivocally Remain Party. Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry and Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer both tested their potential leadership credentials with their passionate appeals for Labour to back Remain. Their departure from Corbyn’s preferred neutral stance was stark, and expect these simmering tensions to boil over eventually.
The vote itself was also seen as controversial, as instead of voting only being taken by all eligible voters and unions, as is usual practice, the conference chairwoman decided to formalise Labour’s Brexit position by a show of hands in the conference hall. There were reports that the hall was packed with Momentum supporters –all ineligible voters – to support Corbyn’s position. The position was rejected by influential trade unions Unison and Usdaw, and left many Labour MPs scratching their heads wondering how on earth they were going to explain this position to voters on the doorstep.
These same MPs will no doubt be frustrated that Labour are not capitalising on the Conservative Party’s current problems. Going into the next election they will be campaigning against a Prime Minister who has lost 6 consecutive Parliamentary votes, expelled 21 MPs from his own party and was found in the highest court of law to have given unlawful advice to the Queen. But even with these unimaginably favourable circumstances, they are leaving voters bewildered by not having a position on the most important political issue of the day and continue to trail in the opinion polls. In a political climate where authenticity and straight-talking reigns supreme, it is surprising that Labour has taken a position which so easily opens them up to attacks that the leadership are being indecisive and deliberately ambiguous.
EU says ‘non’ to the non-paper
Amidst the drama in the Supreme Court, Labour Conference and Parliament this week, UK and EU negotiators quietly got on with the small task of negotiating an updated Withdrawal Agreement. The UK submitted its fourth ‘non-paper’ (an informal discussion paper that is not legally binding) to the EU this week, which outlined some suggested proposals for a checks-based solution on the Irish border. However, these suggestions were rebuked by the EU, with EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier saying that they were “unworkable” and that they did not come close to meeting the Irish and EU need for a ‘fully open border’ that did not create a backdoor into the EU Single Market. Reports from EU officials are that their hopes for a deal being secured are “dwindling.” Johnson himself has admitted that the talks are “difficult” but has remained publicly optimistic that a deal can be found. But time is running out for an agreement to be secured and it remains apparent that the UK and EU are quite a way off from finding a compromise that would satisfy both sides.
However, Johnson’s antics in Parliament on Wednesday also cast doubt upon whether he could get a deal through Parliament, even if he could find a compromise with the EU. Relationships have been so inflamed with Labour MPs that there is little to no chance that they will support him in any last-minute Brexit deal. Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott said that she had spoken to people who previously had considered voting for a Johnson deal, but now “that is over”. This means that the only way that Johnson could get a deal over the line is securing the support of the Brexit ‘Spartans’, the ERG members who rejected May’s deal three times.
Although some ERG members are now represented in Government, gaining their support should not be taken for granted as many of these MPs have decided that no-deal is the only option which fulfils their ideologically pure vision of Brexit. Getting them to agree to a border on the Irish sea and even keeping the UK in the Single Market and Customs Union during the implementation period will be extremely difficult. The roadmap to a deal still has many obstacles blocking it, and time is running out for Johnson to carve a path towards success.
Upcoming Key Dates
- 29th September – 2nd October: Conservative Party Conference
- 17th October: EU October Summit
- 31st October: Current Brexit Deadline.
- 31st January 2020: Proposed Brexit deadline, if Article 50 is extended.
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