Monday, 29 July 2019

What will it take?

During the Tories’ leadership election, most people – including the party’s own members and MPs – assumed that the winning candidate was mostly lying.  Given his history, it’s an entirely reasonable assumption – far more reasonable than assuming that he was telling the truth.  The result was that many of those supporting him were discounting his continued assertions that a no-deal Brexit was a sensible course of action, taking it as a given that he would change course after he won.  But what now looks increasingly likely is that the bit that was the lie was not the bit about a no-deal Brexit being sensible, but the bit about a no deal Brexit not being his first choice as a policy.  I don’t know how else to interpret his refusal to even discuss a way forward with the EU until they first accept that the withdrawal agreement will be renegotiated from scratch.  Telling the other side that any negotiation starts by discussing the terms of their abject surrender doesn’t look like a way of avoiding no deal to me, but as a way of provoking it.
It is, of course, entirely possible that the Prime Minister will simply shrug his shoulders and back down, probably denying that he ever said what he is on the record as having said.  It seems to work for Trump and it’s not as if he doesn’t have form in that regard.  I suspect that a lot of his own party’s MPs are still assuming that that is what will happen, even if they aren’t entirely sure when, or with what excuses.  But it’s also possible that he is completely serious in what he says, in which case things look increasingly ominous.  It may be that Johnson is simply (and not for the first time) over-estimating the strength of his hand, but it seems more likely that he is deliberately seeking a no-deal outcome for which everyone but himself will be blamed.  We have gone from a “million-to-one chance” to "No deal is now a very real prospect" in less than a week.
Conventional wisdom holds that parliament will somehow find a way to obstruct him in that course of action, but I’m not so certain.  I don’t criticise Corbyn (for once!) for not seeking an immediate vote of no confidence in the new PM – the demand from the new Lib Dem leader that he should do so looked like grandstanding to me, and is an ominous sign that the application of common sense in pursuit of some sort of anti-Brexit parliamentary alliance may well founder on the rocks of naked Lib Dem short term party interest.  Why would anyone expect the nature of that party to change just because of a change of leadership?  The reason that Corbyn was right at this point is simply that there is no evidence that any Tories would break ranks to support such a motion, and without that there would have been no chance of success.
The question, though, is this: if not now, when?  What will it take for sufficient Tories to break ranks to bring down the PM (particularly if we factor in the probability that a small number of Labour MPs might also break ranks on the issue in order to see Brexit delivered, even if they go no further than abstaining)?  Their latest excuse (giving Johnson time to see what he will do) is a very poor one; it’s not as if he hasn’t signalled his intentions loudly and clearly, or as if his character and nature were a complete surprise.  If the potential rebels can’t see that now, what is the trigger that will lift the veils from their eyes?  There are now less than 100 days until the date on which no deal Brexit will happen by default, but parliament will only be sitting on 27 of those days, some of which will, doubtless, be used up by trying to play procedural games with Commons rules before resorting to the nuclear option (and if, as seems increasingly likely, an election intervenes, the number of opportunities further reduces).  How many of those days will have to pass before enough Tories are convinced that he needs to be stopped?  At the very least, they’re going to be cutting it a bit fine, and at the worst, they will simply leave it too late.  Depending on Tories has never been the most brilliant of strategies; depending on some of them to turn on their own PM within weeks of electing him looks even less so.

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