Richard North, 28/08/2019  
 


On the one hand we have a government in office, surviving on the slenderest of majorities only because the opposition parties can't muster a credible vote of no confidence challenge. By a perversity of the Fixed Term Elections Act, a half-cocked vote actually strengthens the Oaf's position, leaving him in office by default ready to pursue an unwanted no-deal scenario.

On the other hand, we have essentially powerless opposition parties who, deprived of the traditional means of tabling an unencumbered vote of no confidence, are seeking ever-more arcane procedural means of frustrating the majority intent of the electorate in the 2016 referendum.

And while declaring their intent to delay Brexit, it is no secret that the primary aim of many of the Church House cabal, which tabled its self-important declaration yesterday, is to stop Brexit altogether.

Thus, over the three-years-plus post-referendum period when the focus should have been on implementing the decision of the referendum – while at the same time respecting the wishes and rights of the losing minority (and the politically uncommitted) - the political classes have turned an ostensibly straightforward task into an utter shambles.

With the complicity of an ignorant and venal media, they have managed to represent two entirely unappealing scenarios – a no-deal Brexit or no Brexit at all – into what appears to be a binary contest reflecting the mainstream views of the population.

Yet, if one was to take of no end of opinion polls, the majority of public opinion – over time – has favoured a "middle way", usually representing some form of arrangement along the lines of the Efta/EEA scenario (the so-called "Norway option").

This is without that option ever having been fairly or comprehensively discussed by either media or politicians, who have completely frozen out the "middle way" in pursuit of their artificial binary creation. Thus, we have two sides who in no way represent a popular mandate, each fighting their own battles, all in the name of "democracy" – which have long departed from representing the popular will.

While the objective of the Johnson tribe has been clear from the moment its leader took possession of Number 10 – the uncompromising pursuit of a no-deal Brexit – the emerging cabal have been by no means as focused, embracing a range of objectives from an outright revocation of the Article 50 notification (thereby abandoning Brexit altogether) to a "people's referendum" which would be so rigged as to split the "leave" vote and give the unreconciled "remainers" an inbuilt advantage.

As of yesterday, though, this lack of unity of aim has been papered over, with Jeremy Corbyn agreeing to delay a vote of no confidence, giving "rebel MPs" their head in attempting to use legislation to block a no-deal Brexit.

So far, this cunning plan is a little short on detail but, for those who are interested, we are promised more by the end of the week, ready for the MPs to take action when parliament resumes next week.

One assumes that the general strategy will be to pass an Act of Parliament which will instruct the government formally to apply for another extension of the Article 50 process, buying time for further plotting by the malcontents.

However, while it is always open for HMG to apply, there is nothing to say that the European Council will grant an extension when it meets on 17 October. We could even have a situation where Johnson couches any request in such terms as to invite refusal. Depending on the terms of his instructions, he could even veto any extension offer himself, despite having applied for it.

Nevertheless, the renewed interest in legislation, alongside putting a vote of no confidence "on hold", seems to scupper any plans Johnson might have had for an early general election. Those were entirely dependent on his losing a vote of no confidence and the failure of Corbyn to set up an alternative government.

However, the media seems to be unable to make up their minds about this, citing the abrupt cancellation of a major speech by the chancellor, Sajid Javid, as evidence that Johnson could be about to call an early general election.

Instead, the Treasury has announced that the one-year spending review, setting out the government's economic priorities, is to be fast-tracked to 4 September, the day MPs return to Westminster. This is supposedly a sign that the government wants to highlight a new policy agenda before a potential autumn election.

But this hardly ties in with the absence of a vote of no confidence, which might otherwise have triggered a general election – for lack of which Johnson needs a two-thirds majority in the House, which he is unlikely to get.

In any event, the uncertainty over an early election has led to the Johnson administration taking a fresh look at proroguing parliament, cutting back the time it has left for trouble-making. Under this scheme, the Privy Council would be asked to advise the Queen to suspend parliament for five weeks from early September, when parliament is due to break up anyway for the conference season.

There would then be a new session, launched by a fresh Queen's speech on or around 14 October, allowing just enough time for parliament to vote on any reworked deal that Johnson manages to bring home from Brussels, before it is put to the 17 October Council for its approval.

All this, of course, lies in the realms of speculation, as the only thing that might be on offer is yet another revamp of the political declaration – a move hardly calculated to impress the ERG rebels, whose aversion to the backstop is only one of a long list of complaints they have against the Withdrawal Agreement.

All in all, therefore, this latest (and possibly last) round of political manoeuvring may have no more impact than anything tried by Mrs May, leaving the no-deal scenario as the only game in town.

Even then, Johnson has said that he plans to keep the pressure on Brussels for a new deal right up until the last minute, which means that planners will not know until the Brexit is upon them whether they should be launching full-frontal no-deal contingency plans. This is getting close to the worst of all possible worlds.

For the rebels, though, it does seem that they are now pinning their hopes on a delay to the Brexit process, with Corbyn having written to 116 backbench Conservative and independent MPs - including Theresa May, Philip Hammond, David Lidington and Greg Clark - urging them to back the cross-party efforts against a no-deal exit.

For Johnson, though, every day that passes is another day closer to his declared objective of leaving the EU on 31 October and, even after all these years, many MPs still seem to have difficulty in understanding that no-deal is the default scenario and, to achieve it, all Johnson has to do is sit on his hands and stall for time. Presenting a picture of being prepared to run talks to the wire can only help his cause, keeping rebel MPs at bay until it is too late for them to act.

Meanwhile, former British senior European Commission official, Sir Jonathan Faull , has become the latest victim of Johnson's unfounded optimism over his "alternative arrangements".

Faull has come up with his own variation, selling the concept of "dual autonomy" – where the EU and UK would maintain their own customs and regulatory regimes but use their laws to protect each others' markets. But this is receiving no more enthusiasm than Singham's AAC efforts – i.e., none at all.

For the next 65 days, there will be a lot more of this – so much of it noise, drowning out the real voice of the people who have long tired of what their politicians and the media have to offer them.






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