Brexit Brief: Boris to Bin Backstop or Parliament to Bin Boris?

Posted on 22nd August 2019

Johnson on tour

Following up on his campaign pledge, Boris Johnson wrote to the EU demanding the removal of the Northern Irish backstop from the withdrawal agreement, only to be swiftly rejected for failing to propose substantive alternatives. Now, as UK officials step back from day-to-day EU meetings, the British Prime Minister is visiting leaders in Germany and France ahead of a meeting with EU Council President Donald Tusk on the fringes of this weekend’s G7. For now, the EU position holds, with a clear message that the onus is on the UK to come up with alternatives to the backstop. Johnson’s runaway campaign win and attention-grabbing policy promises have boosted his domestic standing, but like many before him, the prime minister may find that there are limits to how far this will carry him in Europe.

Trouble at home

While Johnson jets off to the continent, domestic tensions continue to simmer. Earlier this week, the leak of a Whitehall report predicting food, medicine, and fuel shortages in a no-deal scenario led MPs and industry to ask for a detailed account of the UK’s readiness to leave the EU without a deal, while no-deal advocates dismiss the warnings as civil service scaremongering. When MPs will return to London on 3 September — unless they succeed in forcing an early recall — the mooted cross-party anti no-deal alliance will face down the Johnson government with attempts to seize control of the parliamentary timetable to avoid a no-deal Brexit. Within the maze of arcane parliamentary procedures of Westminster, there are many possible routes for rebels to take but none which guarantee success, and time is against them.

Cometh the hour, cometh the Caretaker Corbyn?

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called on rebel Conservatives and the leaders of the Scottish National Party, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, the Independent Group for Change and the Green Party to support him in bringing down Johnson’s administration and forming a caretaker government which would seek to delay Brexit. However, the success of this plot to is far from certain as many MPs are unwilling to install Corbyn as prime minister, for however short a time. Similarly, many in Labour are unwilling to support a rebel Conservative compromise candidate, while both main parties would also like to avoid handing the Liberal Democrats a huge publicity boost by voting in new leader Jo Swinson. Even if a vote of no confidence brings down Johnson, parliamentary experts have pointed out that Johnson and his team might be able to block the formation of any caretaker government, leaving the UK with no-one at the wheel as it sails out of the EU and towards the sunlit uplands of Brexit on October 31.

 

The next few months will be a crucial test on whether parliament or Boris Johnson will set Brexit policy.

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