“We will leave on October 31st, do or die.”
So far, it is Do : 0, Die : 3. Johnson has scored a spectacular hat-trick against himself.
Two days ago, Parliament voted to wrest control of Parliamentary timetabling from the Johnson-led government. Yesterday, they used this time to pass a Bill through the House of Commons that makes it illegal for Boris to let us leave the EU on October 31st if we do not have a deal.
Then, having had his authority eviscerated in front of him, Boris called for a General Election.
He lost that vote too.
Parliament, united in fury against his plan to prorogue it, has prevented a no-deal Brexit on October 31st. For all intents and purposes, Johnson is now powerless.
In the words of Ron Burgundy, “That escalated quickly.”
Yesterday was a monster day in politics.
For a start, it seemed like it would never end. Not only did we have Prime Minister’s Questions, Boris’ first (and possibly last) with his hand on the tiller, we also saw Sajid Javid release his spending plans as Home Secretary, followed by the two votes, both of which had massive debates first.
Let’s begin at the beginning. PMQs.
Prime Minister’s Questionable Strategies
Boris Johnson, for all of the question marks around him, was elected Prime Minister because of the sheer force of personality that he is. His famous oration and humorous quips were thought to be a salve that might be able to heal our fractured and frazzled nation.
Prime Minister’s Questions should have been his bread and butter, especially against competition like Jeremy Corbyn.
But he was appalling. Utterly, utterly appalling.
Not only did he stumble over his words and frequently become unintelligible, he gesticulated wildly at the opposition, cracked out some blood-curdlingly unfunny jokes and even swore.
To be fair, his audience was not friendly. Not only were the Rebel Alliance still furious with him for his attempts to bypass Parliament through prorogation, but many of his own party were, too.
This is because, after the previous day’s vote, he had expelled the 21 Tories that had rebelled against him. These included incredibly popular politicians, including Sir Nicholas Soames, Winston Churchill’s grandson, and Ken Clarke, the longest-serving MP in the House of Commons.
Clarke was elected in 1970.
Some within his party were still utterly furious with him for treating distinguished politicians with such disdain.
And, liberated from the party’s whip, Clarke laid siege to Johnson and his team over the course of the day, even calling him “disingenuous.” This would have made those Tory MPs whose loyalty to Johnson was hanging by a thread very uncomfortable.
Finally, Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, a Labour MP, gave an impassioned speech against Johnson’s allegedly racist language used in his previous Telegraph columns. Specifically, the “letterbox” jibe.
Boris looked about as comfortable as a Trump supporter in G-A-Y.
So, PMQs went about as well as a family camping holiday in November.
What next? The spending review, of course!
“The Saj” Gets Slagged
This was meant to be the one shining light in an otherwise appalling day for the Tories.
It was when they were, at long last, going to announce the one thing we’d all been waiting for.
THE END OF AUSTERITY.
The trumpets would sound and the people would rejoice, for lo, the sun dost shine again at last.
Except his plans were immediately dismissed as lies and empty promises.
And ye, the sun didst immediately piss right off again.
The announcements were all extremely positive, with education, the NHS and police officers all particularly benefitting from generous spending increases. However, John McDonnell stood up immediately after Javid and revealed the truth (in his insanely dull and meandering speaking manner).
All of these promises were dependent on a Brexit deal being achieved. A no-deal Brexit would cost too much to the economy to allow that much expenditure elsewhere. Knowing that the vote on no-deal was almost definitely going to be lost later in the day, the spending plans were a desperate attempt to get some Tory rebels back on side.
If the grass is greener on your side, why drive your John Deere through the fence?
Unfortunately, everyone saw through this ruse and realised that the lawn was in fact just painted green. The grass underneath it was already dead.
So that was another roaring failure for Johnson’s government, and that’s before we even get onto the important stuff.
So, after the spending review, a marathon debate kicked off in Parliament. At the end of the debate would come a vote on the Bill, authored by Hilary Benn, the Labour MP, that would prevent a no-deal Brexit on October 31st.
It was, as you’d expect, a swirling maelstrom of utter pointlessness. Those in favour of the Bill waxed lyrical about protecting democracy and the dangers of no-deal. Those against it called the opposition “collaborators,” “traitors” and “a disgrace to democracy.”
No-one would have changed their minds about how they were going to vote, yet they had a four-hour debate about it anyway.
In the end, the vote passed by 327 votes to 299 – an extra Tory MP also rebelled against the party from the day before, Dame Caroline Spelman.
Boris’ “Do or Die” pledge had been obliterated by Parliament. There is more to this story that we will cover at the end of this article, but it is now highly unlikely that we will leave the EU on October 31st.
Johnson, thoroughly defeated, then took to the despatch box and called for a General Election. To be fair, he didn’t really have that much of a choice – with no majority and a full impasse in Parliament, going back to the people was really his only option.
EXCEPT THAT WAS A RUSE, TOO. Shock horror.
If a General Election was passed by Parliament (2/3rds of MPs need to agree), then Boris could set the date. He could, very easily, have manipulated this detail to time the election in such a way that no-deal would happen by default. Parliament doesn’t sit during the build-up to a GE, so wouldn’t have been able to prevent it.
If Corbyn et al had accepted, the Bill that they had just passed would likely have never been made into law. As such, they denied him a General Election (298 voted in favour of a GE and Labour abstained, meaning no 2/3rds majority) and promised not to call for one until the Benn Bill had been fully implemented.
While there is some confusion as to where Labour really stand on when an election will be called, it is likely to not be until mid-October. This is because the Benn Bill’s deadline for Johnson negotiating a deal kicks in after he’s met with the EU in October.
Johnson is now at the helm of a ship, but has no say in which way to take it. A hat-trick of Commons losses has left him utterly powerless.
…Do I Detect A But?
In order for the Benn Bill to be passed, it has to be passed through the House of Lords. Currently, as I write this, the House of Lords has just broken the twelfth filibuster (blocking attempt) of around ninety that have been tabled by Brexiteer peers.
The rumour is that most of the House of Lords will stay up all night to fight the battle to pass it.
The Bill may not be passed until Friday, or even the weekend if the House of Lords is called to sit in to resolve it. There is also a very real chance it may not get passed in time at all.
Politics? More like LOLitics, am I right?!
There’s no real way of knowing what happens now – no General Election, a highly unlikely no-deal, a government in tatters…
But, whatever happens next, Between the Lines will be there to explain it.
For now though, I’m off to drink a million pints.
UPDATE: Late last night, the House of Lords agreed that the Bill would be passed by Friday afternoon. However, there are some who worry that the agreement (instigated by Tory peers) might have some darker, ulterior motive behind it…