Prime Minister in Name Only

Boris Johnson went into Parliament yesterday with a majority of one. Dr Philip Lee MP, crossed the floor as the Prime Minister rose, joining the Liberal Democrats. Then, carrying out a threat, the Conservative whip was withdrawn from 21 other MPs who voted in favour of last night’s motion. His administration is now 43 votes short of a majority.

Mr Johnson is now calling for an election before the October 31st Brexit deadline, to give him the mandate to get over the line. But, in any near-term election, Tories will be wiped out in Scotland again, and suffer at the hands of the Liberal Democrats in the South and West of the country. This may be offset by gains against Labour in the North of England, but the path to a majority relies on getting the Brexit party out the way. This will only be possible IF the election is before October 31st, and even then, Nigel Farage’s goons will likely stand against any “suspect” Tory MPs. If the election is after 31st October, then I suspect Farage will cry “betrayal” and stand against all Tories, splitting the Brexit vote and delivering the keys to Number 10 to Jeremy Corbyn at the head of a coalition. I think no party looks like gaining a majority.

But the date of the election is out of Mr Johnson’s hands. Under the terms of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, he requires a 2/3rds majority for an election, and so this route is closed. He could repeal the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, but he probably lacks the votes for even this.

The leader of the Opposition, who it must be noted is actually behind the Tories in the polls, has been calling for an election for a year, wants an it after the 31st October, for the same reasons Mr. Johnson wants it before. Jeremy Corbyn will win this battle. Let’s assume for a bit Jeremy Corbyn is a competent politician. (Shut up, stop guffawing and bear with me, I know this is a big assumption). He will want the Prime Minister to stew in his own juice for a while. Minority administrations are weak and cannot achieve anything, and in any case Parliament will not, thanks to the Prime Minister’s proroguation, be sitting much. Corbyn may have few qualities, but he is at least patient in the persuit of his goals.

So, election then?

Eventually yes. Minority administrations always end with an election. I no longer expect this parliament to last until 2022. But there is one rabbit the Prime Minister may pull out of his hat before that election which Johnson will struggle to win: a second referendum. This solves most of Mr Johnson’s problems, and I think a lot of the “we might as well stay in the EU rather than that deal” rhetoric coming from Farage and Ress-Mogg is softening up for this. The election talk could be a smokescreen.

The ins and outs of what will or will not happen are less important than something else that changed last night. Never has a Conservative Prime Minister expelled members who include 2 former chancellors and 6 other former cabinet ministers for voting with their consiences. The Brexiters have got control, but such is their overreach, they looked lost. The normally magisterial public performer “Boris” looked rushed, confused and at the mercy of powers outside his control. Which he is.

Prime Minister Johnson behaved like a man with a 100 seat majority, but had his bluff called. Worse though than the Prime Ministers witless pugnacity was the arrogant, entitled and smug performance from the leader of the house, Jacob Rees Mogg as he lounged about on the Government front bench. What story does this image tell: These people think they’re playing a clever parlour game, not wrecking people’s livlihoods.

I met Mr Rees-Mogg in 1997 when he turned up with his nanny to fight a working-class seat in Scotland. I thought then that this man represents everything wrong with the Tory party, and nothing has changed my view since. I will enjoy watching his return to the backbenches and I will never again vote for any party that has him in it.

This mendacious and utterly incompetent government is a necessary step in stopping Brexit. A government of Brexiters, by Brexiters, for Brexiters must fail, and be seen to fail. Brexit is the impossible being delivered by the incompetent for the uninformed. There can then be no further insinuation that the impossible project failed because Government isn’t committed enough. Reality is now smashing the Brexiters’ populist rhetoric. ‘No Deal’ won’t work because we need a deal with the EU, or face being much, much poorer. All that happens on November the First is the UK re-enters negotiation to find the financial settlement, the Irish border and regulatory equivalence demands look much as they did before Mrs May negotiated the withdrawal agreeement. There is no way the EU will offer more favourable terms to a third country than they will to a leaving member. The deal painstakingly negotiated represents the hardest Brexit realistically possible, and the Brexiters who’d thought of nothing else for 30 years, rejected it.

The Brexiters have raised the referndum result to be the perfect embodiment of democracy. They had their chance to deliver on it. Three times. But was Brexiters votes stopping Brexit.

The referendum delivered a narrow mandate to leave the European Union. This is a much harder and more involved process than was sold by either of the ‘Leave’ campaigns, and it certainly wasn’t a mandate to rip the UK out of its principal trading relationship and leave everyone much poorer. At the very least, the Public deserve another referendum on Brexit now we know it isn’t a walk to the pub, on a path lined by flowers and freshly laid tables of cream tea, but rather a dangerous, steep path with long drops either side, surrounded by clowns throwing lego, rollerskates and banana skins in your path. It is not “undemocratic” to call it a day there and revoke Article 50.

Now, battered and confused, the Party that incubated this absurd and poisonous movement has been destroyed by it. I suspect those expelled yesterday from the Tory party will find themselves the eventual winners. The next Tory Government will be formed of a party that has purged the European research group of Europhobic headbangers, or the party will deservedly fade into obscurity and die.

Whether this takes 5 years or 20, I don’t care. Brexito Delanda Est.

15 replies
  1. david morris
    david morris says:

    “Brexit is the impossible being delivered by the incompetent for the uninformed”

    Please do amplify on “impossible” & “uninformed”, your vast readership is on tenterhooks…

    • Malcolm Bracken
      Malcolm Bracken says:

      Impossible: “Brexit” can’t be done. We CAN leave the political structures, but we will still have to obey all the rules. Deal, no deal, or no brexit, because there is no choice. Uninformed: You don’t seem to know this, or much else, and there’s little doubt that it was mainly the left hand side of the bell curve that voted leave.

      I note you accept my charicterisation of Johnson’s administration as “incompetent”.

      • George Carty
        George Carty says:

        Isn’t one issue that the Tory Brexiteers and the working-class Leave voters had essentially diametrically opposite goals? The former were extreme globalist free-marketeers, while the latter were nationalists seeking to protect the British worker from foreign competition (from both immigrants and imports).

  2. Malcolm Bracken
    Malcolm Bracken says:

    Yes. All the supposed “benefits” of brexit were either ephemeral: they only exist until you look at the detail (anything relating to trade deals falls in this category) or mutually incompatible (for example “access to the single market” and “ending freedom of movement”. There is no solution to the Irish border,and the benefits of brexit, if there are even any, aren’t remotely worth the trouble. That is why Brexit almost certainly won’t happen at all. It’s a stupid policy, sold to a gullible electorate by charlatans, liars and bigots, and anyone who still supports it should be deeply ashamed of themselves.

  3. Christopher
    Christopher says:


    I wish I can share your optimism regarding Brexit not happening. The whole situation is a mess and no matter what happens (Leave or not) there will be one chunk of the public deeply aggrieved. Even if we leave the EU but stay in the Single Market, those concerned about immigration won’t be happy. *I support Freedom of Movement, by the way*

    The Brexit Party is a serious threat to the Conservatives in a General Election. They could split the vote and hand the keys to Downing Street to Jeremy Corbyn, which would be a disaster. If we have a Second Referendum instead and Johnson campaigns leave, then loses we will have another Tory leadership race and have a lame duck PM.

  4. Handy Mike
    Handy Mike says:

    You’ve claimed that the EU is something like a bureaucratic clearing house for regionally integrated commerce.

    You also claim such a thing is impossible to leave.

    When your mind begins to calm itself, in the exhausted drift toward sleep after a long day of irritation at the news, are you ever nagged by the possible contradiction, amounting almost to absurdity, between these claims?

    • Jackart
      Jackart says:

      Yes, the EU is something like a bureaucratic clearing house for regionally (and internationally) integrated commerce. Leaving it either leaves the UK a rule taker (whose, to be decided) or outside the mainstream of the world economy. So leaving is easy, but extraordinarily costly. No large developed nation has ever left a trade bloc. There’s a good reason why. So no, I don’t see a contradiction. You’ve just misunderstood What the EU is, and why leaving it is a truly terrible policy. Nice try at a gotcha, but really, you just demonstrated your ignorance.

  5. Handy Mike
    Handy Mike says:

    “Yes, the EU is something like a bureaucratic clearing house for regionally (and internationally) integrated commerce.”

    I’ve commented here before that it’s very hard to find intelligent, well-informed citizens of the 27 who hold this view. Indeed, the few for whom I’ve paraphrased it find it risible.

    You don’t even find pro-EU Brits claiming it anymore. It’s just a silly thing to say.

    If I wasn’t so keen to avoid sounding like one of the many ill-mannered adolescents who foul internet discussion, I might even say that expressing this view shows ‘You’ve just misunderstood What the EU is’ or even that ‘you just demonstrated your ignorance.’

    An interesting development of the last three years is how debate about the EU, in other contexts, now assume that its nature is pretty much as described by Eurosceptics – a grand political project engaged in building out a constitutional order and somewhat puzzled about the sort of great power it could or should be in the disquieting circumstances of the 21st Century.

    An example – I was at an IR conference earlier this year where almost all of the talk about the EU, in presentations, panels and informal chat, focused on how it’s problems created and contributed to emerging risks. That old flapdoodle about underwriting more than a half-century of peace on the continent was nowhere to be heard.

    You have to come to funny little blogs like this to find the claim that it’s principally focused on commercial coordination problems. Actually, that *is* why I drop by from time to time.

    There’s just no way you’re really this stupid and ill-informed. Like so many in the UK, three years of anger have driven you to the routine exercise of gross and embarrassing unreason.

    • Malcolm Bracken
      Malcolm Bracken says:

      “I was at an IR conference” (Investor Relations? International Regulation?).
      I’m gussing you’re in finance, but the same is true of most sectors: Of course you’ll hear about the EU, because the EU regulates international finance and cross border trade. The rules in finance were mostly written by British bureaucrats. It boils down to this. The next battleground is not going to be resources or production, as we’re all essentially unlimited on both. The battleground will be regulation, and if the UK goes into that war alone, it will not find the regulations it obeys to its liking.
      There’s no value to the independence being offered.
      What is it you fear?

      • Handy Mike
        Handy Mike says:

        International Relations.

        Assuming your ‘What is it you fear?’ question still has a point in light of this clarification, then the first thing to say is that my reaction to the EU is not principally a fearful one.

        It is simply that it is a titanic, misbegotten mistake. It is also, though noble in its aims, fundamentally deceitful in its operations and strategy. This is not so terrible in itself, but it won’t work, not anymore. There’s just too much glaring transparency about the place.

        We should always have known that you cannot erect a new constitutional order without firm foundations among peoples and the practices with which they reconcile ideals with non-ideal realities. And if we didn’t the last decade or so has issued a number of sharp reminders.

  6. Jackart
    Jackart says:

    You fear the EU superstate, rather than accept the benefits of what it is: an unusually deep and comprehensive free trade agreement. That is you think the EU is the pronouncements of its most starry-eyed adherents, rather than look at what it’s actually built. And if you asked now, the EU has far more legitimacy in the UK, than would leaving it, which is why the Brexiters so fear a referendum.

    I see your error. I share your fear. But for now, the fear is groundless.

    • Handy Mike
      Handy Mike says:

      Bit jumbled that. Two bottles at lunch was it?

      The architects and executors of the project to succeed European nation-states aren’t in the least starry-eyed. Indeed, among their many admirable qualities is a far-sighted, realist cunning.

      They’re just wrong. Understandably and excusably wrong – this must all have seemed like the only way, amidst the rubble and shame of WWII, to prevent a repeat of the catastrophe. But the catastrophe ended the epoch that led to it, and so meant it was not at all likely to come again.

  7. Jackart
    Jackart says:

    Look, no nation of the EU is going to surrender its hard-won independence to the EU. The EU doesn’t have a foriegn policy except through the nations. There isn’t going to be an “EU army” though it will, thanks to Brexit and Trump, become more of an adjunct to NATO, an example of Brexit damaging the UK’s long-standing foreign policy goals. Indeed, the Nation-state, any nation state is profoundly unstable, except as part of a Bloc. No “independent” nation state has ever existed, anywhere, ever. The EU isn’t a threat to UK sovereignty, it guarantees it. Finally, the UK itself will not survive Brexit. Literally, nothing you think about the EU is correct. You’re wrong, sorry.

    • Handy Mike
      Handy Mike says:

      I withdraw the insinuation that you’re pissed.

      By my count, nine bold claims, and every one wrong or at least of comically unwarranted certainty.

      Some in virtue of simple-mindedness, others an announcement of plain ignorance. And all punched out with the clunking, ex cathedra tone that betrays convincing oneself as the main job.

      In any case, a concerted, rather than a drunkenly disordered, effort. Hats off.

      “The EU isn’t a threat to UK sovereignty, it guarantees it.”

      There’s one to roll round the chops like a half-way decent brandy.


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