The Death Of No Deal?

By Mark Montegriffo

Another week has turned British politics on its head. Suddenly no Brexit seems more plausible than no deal, supposedly radical communist Jeremy Corbyn looks nowhere near as dangerous and extreme as Boris et al, and the Conservative party appears to have embraced its death drive. Those are just a few of the plethora of conclusions that can be drawn from the past 48 hours of government defeats in the Commons, contradictory speeches, and procedural confusion. Before we can dig deeper though, let's set the context.

The first move from Prime Minister Johnson was to hire Dominic Cummings as his primary consultant, the man who oversaw the Vote Leave campaign's strategy, a big part of which has since been found to be illegal. For all the talk of a grand plan, particularly this week, it was pretty obvious that Johnson and Cummings were in full-on election mode with their targeted ads and targeted polling. The ploy was simple: pretend that you don't want an election because you want to give parliament a chance to vote against the national interest (knowing full well that it won't), then come back and paint parliament as the traitors in peak Farage fashion, and finally fight an election campaign as the only man who can deliver Brexit versus Corbyn and the Remainer elites. Setting aside that there are countless incoherencies in there from Boris de Pfeffel Johnson being anti-establishment to Jeremy Corbyn being somehow part of the liberal pro-EU elite, it was a highly risky strategy to begin with.

The week began on Monday with the Prime Minister opposing an election on the steps of Number 10, following it up by demanding an election on Tuesday, and then criticizing Corbyn for opposing a general election before blocking no deal became law. Hypocrisy has never been so transparent.

On Downing Street, the freewheeling charisma was absent as he was visibly distracted by the anti-coup protestors. It was the same story through the week in parliament as he incoherently spluttered during his four straight defeats in the Commons and the most embarrassing Prime Minister’s Questions in living memory. A leader who could swagger and improvise his way through Brexit was seen to be the only route out of the impasse for the Conservatives. The optimism crashed and burned along with the Tory Party as we know it.

In less than three days in Parliament, the government has lost four crucial votes and won nothing. The plan to threaten Conservative MPs with expulsion failed, and now the Prime Minister has lost over 20 MPs, from former Cameron right-hand man Oliver Letwin to former leader Kenneth Clarke. Most ironically, Johnson lost Nicholas Soames, the grandson of Winston Churchill whom Johnson has claimed to see as his political hero. It has often been written in history textbooks that the issue of Europe in particular has been close to causing the death of the Conservative Party. It has certainly caused the deaths of several Conservative governments, and this one appears to be no different, as Boris Johnson’s majority of 1 became 0 when an MP joined the Liberal Democrats which threw off Johnson during his speech, and then it became -43 after the purge.

The final straw for Johnson to clutch at was daring his opposite number to vote for the general election. But Corbyn and the no deal alliance held firm. The Labour leader’s measured stance this week made a contrast to the unhinged and incompetent Tory front bench. Labour MPs behind him had never been so pleased and united under his leadership until now. Corbyn, in many ways, has the Tories to thank for swinging to the hard right and giving his side of the House something to unite against. He was very careful with his words and it paid off. At the start of the week, Corbyn said words to the effect that he would vote for a general election only once no deal was off the table. The Johnson trick, if there was any, was that he would push the election through after the vote over no deal but before it was taken through the Lords and put on the statute books, thereby allowing him to circumvent the votes in parliament. Agree with Corbyn’s politics or not, he showed leaps more maturity and moderation than his opposite number by realising the strategy and acting accordingly, putting national interest first, as did those (now former) Conservative MPs who voted to block no deal.  

All things being equal, the bill to prevent no deal will become law by the start of next week and then we can start talking about an election by then. The biggest catastrophe of all for Gibraltar and the UK appears to be averted, and Corbyn played a significant part in that. The Labour leader looked far more prime ministerial and leader-like than the Prime Minister, particularly since the Conservatives and a lot of the media had been accusing him of thinking about deselection and shutting out MPs from his party. Well forget about thoughts, it is the Conservative leader who has, in less than three days, done all the loony radical things they were attributing to Corbyn for more than three years.

The Prime Minister was voted in to his position by 0.13 percent of the UK population, yet the only card up his sleeve is a people versus parliament campaign. For a leader who cannot even win a vote in parliament, let alone keep his MPs, it would be the height of hubris for him to assume that it would be any easier than May’s disaster election in 2017. Hubris is probably the word that sums up the week for the Tories, along with the photo of elite no dealer Jacob Rees-Mogg lounging across the front bench dismissively while a female MP gave her contribution to the debate. Even more excruciating was the Prime Minister being passionately slammed by Sikh Labour MP Singh Desi for the Tory leader's racist remarks against Muslim women and challenging him to launch an enquiry in his party on Islamaphobia which he had promised, provoking thunderous applause and cheers on the opposition side of the dispatch box, and an out-of-touch meandering response from the Prime Minister. The Etonians brought back an image of the Party that was reminiscent of the 1950s, and had really never left. They were arrogant, with very little to be arrogant about. It won't take a rocket scientist at the next election to see the proponents of a hard Brexit as a collection of complacent elites, not of the working people that they are aiming to benefit from.

We suddenly have the prospect of a general election where the rising Liberal Democrats and Labour (throw the Greens, The Independent Group, and the SNP in there) have something clear and simple to unite against, as well as to unite for. There is no way they will survive without campaigning in opposition to a no deal and in favour of a people’s vote. There is a chance, however, that they can defeat an already battered and weak Conservative Party and leadership, bringing us closer to stopping Brexit as a whole.