Boris Johnson Loses Majority, So What?

This morning, MP Phlillip Lee quit the Tory Party and joined the Liberal Democrats.

News reports made a big deal out of this because Boris Johnson lost his majority in parliament. However, the move is meaningless.

Why?

Tonight there will be a vote on legislation to stop No Deal. As many as 20 Tory rebels will vote against the government. They will be outed from the party and most will lose their seats in the next election.

Emergency Legislation

Commons Speaker John Bercow agreed to allow an emergency debate under "SO24 procedures".

The proposed legislation by Hillary Benn, the Shadow (opposition) Brexit Secretary, seeks to halt No Deal by forcing Boris Johnson to ask the EU for an extension until January 31, 2020, and further accept any extension requests the EU offers.

Theoretically, the legislation could keep the UK trapped in a customs union forever.

Boris Johnson's Reply

Yesterday a bill was published – a bill that the leader of the opposition has spent all summer working on.

This is not a bill in any normal sense of the word. It is without precedent in our history – it is a bill that, if passed, would force me to go to Brussels and beg an extension. It would force me to accept any terms offered. It would destroy any chance of negotiations or a new deal. And indeed it would enable our friends in Brussels to dictate the terms of the negotiation, that is what it does.

There is only one way to describe this bill – it is Jeremy Corbyn’s surrender bill. It means running up the white flag.

I want to make clear to everybody in this house – there are no circumstances in which I will ever accept anything like it. I will never surrender the control of the negotiations in the way the leader of the opposition is demanding.

We promised the people we would get Brexit done. We promised to respect the result of the referendum and we must do so now. Enough is enough. This country wants this done. They want the referendum respected. We are negotiating a deal and though I am confident of getting a deal we will leave on 31 October in all circumstances. There will be no further pointless delay.

This house has never before voted to force the prime minister to surrender such a crucial decision to the discretion of our friends and neighbours overseas.

What is this bill would mean is that unless we agree to the terms of our friends and partners they would be able to keep us in the EU for as long as they want and on their terms. I urge therefore this house to reject this bill tonight so that we can get the right deal for our country, deliver Brexit and take the whole country forward.

Emergency Legislation Rules

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If Commons (the lower house of Parliament) passes the bill, it still has to pass the House of Lords where it is subject to filibuster.

Let's pick up the discussion with Guardian Live.

If the SO24 motion gets passed by the Commons later, MPs will get the chance to pass all stages of the Benn bill tomorrow. It will then go to the House of Lords.

Normally there are no time limits on debates in the Lords. Peers do not use programme motions, which are used in the Commons to curtail debates so that bills complete all their stages by a particular time. This led to fears that pro-Brexit peers might filibuster the bill, so that it fails to clear the Lords before prorogation. But Angela Smith, the Labour leader in the Lords, has tabled a motion to be debated tomorrow that would ensure that all stages of the Benn bill must be completed by 5pm on Friday.

There had been talk of peers sitting over the weekend to deal with the bill, but this motion would kill off that prospect. The Benn bill would then go back to the Commons on Monday, when MPs would debate any Lords amendment.

The Smith motion has the support of the Lib Dems, which means it is very likely to get through because there is no Conservative majority in the Lords.

Johnson Still Has Options

Assume the bill passes the House of Lords in time.

Is that the end of it?

Not quite as Eurointelligence explains.

Let’s assume the rebels win tonight and that parliament resists elections. What then?

  1. The draft bill compels the prime minister to write a letter to the European Council asking for a three-month extension if no alternative deal is on the table. If the European Council suggests an extension, Johnson would have to accept whatever they offer. The drafters of the bill believe that their legislation is water-right - an assertion we disagree with.
  2. This is what could happen: Johnson might simply not comply with the law. He probably has a greater incentive to go to jail than to fold on this point. As we are gaming this particular scenario, we find that the devices to be deployed are becoming progressively more extreme, but they exist. For starters, Johnson could delay Royal Assent to the extension bill until prorogation kicks in. At that point, all unfinished legislation would expire.
  3. If he chooses not to go down that road, he could frustrate a positive EU response to his letter, simply by threatening to veto all EU business - from the continuation of Russian sanctions all the way to the EU budget. He could also take the view that the bill is null and avoid as it does not address the EU’s demand from April that the UK must show a way forward as a condition for extension. The bill does not do that.
  4. We think that the otherwise formidable David Allen Green is unusually complacent when he argues that the Commons could simply circumvent the prime minister by getting the UK representation in Brussels to write that letter. The trouble is that there is nothing to stop Johnson closing down UKRep.
  5. And, if this were not extreme enough, there is still the theoretical possibility that Johnson could enlist the help of a friendly government, like Hungary’s. We don’t think he will go down that road. Imagine the double humiliation of having to eat your words and write that letter in the first place, and then to be rescued by a knight in shining armour in the form of Viktor Orbán.

Delay Royal Assent

In regards to point number two, all Johnson has to do is delay until September 10.

Starting September 10, Parliament Will Be Suspended Until October 14, by the Queen's order (at the request of Johnson).

The Remainers would then try again on October 14, but Johnson would then go with option 3, 4, or 5 above.

One of my readers pointed out the possibility that Johnson could ask for an extension, then veto it himself. Extension requests must be unanimous.

There are many ways Johnson can thwart parliament if he chooses to do so, and all indications are that he will do just that.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

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