This showdown has been a long time coming. But where to even begin? Not from the start, not from the referendum. No, we all know what happened with that. And there’s no point in wasting time with Theresa May and her many failed attempts at getting Brexit over the line. That’s all history now. The next time we’ll be hearing about them will be in the inevitable plethora of books written by political commentators released in time for this Christmas.
Let us start with the current Prime Minister. At least he is the PM, as of the time I’m writing… Boris Johnson finally got what he wanted and won the votes of two thirds of the Tory party membership to become Prime Minister of The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. He promised he would absolutely never seek another extension of Article 50. He would instead take the UK out of the EU on October 31st, ‘do or die’.
He repeated this conviction often. Often enough, that it served as a catalyst to make those forces in parliament who are opposed to a no-deal do what they had failed to do for three years; act together.
An ungainly gathering of Labour, Liberal Democrat, SNP and rebel Tory MPs agreed that they would do everything in their parliamentary powers to stop Boris from crashing the UK out. And so, given the government only had a majority of 1, and then even so only with support from the DUP, this was not an empty threat.
Seeking to preempt this preemption, Boris decided to do something he promised many times during his leadership election that he would not do – ask the Queen to use her powers to prorogue parliament. Now, instead of having weeks to try and bring in laws to hinder the government’s plans, the opposition had only a matter of days.
The prorogation move proved shocking and unnerving, and a massive public backlash ensued. There is a controversy as to whether or not it was ‘constitutional’, but this is largely pointless, given the UK lacks an actual constitution of law and instead relies on political convention and established niceties.
The act did serve to put a blistering fire under his detractors and they moved to take over the agenda in the House of Commons in order to speed through a piece of legislation blocking a no-deal. Boris responded with bluster and ill grace, sacking over 20 MPs from the Conservative party and claiming an election was now necessary and must be done as soon as Oct 15th.
But the wisdom of a previous parliament stops him from getting that easily.
Before 2012, the right to call an election was at the whim of the PM. Now, under the Fixed Term Parliament Act, established under the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition of 2011, the House of Commons must ascent to an election by a two-thirds majority.
Back in 2017, this was no problem for Theresa May. She could count on Labour not to be willing to be accused of cowardice in refusing to challenge her in a poll. But today, the opposition parties have easily claimed that they don’t trust Boris and say he could use his powers in an election to shut down parliament for the two months needed to crash the UK out of the EU.
And so… now we are witnessing the largest political and constitutional quagmire that the UK has faced since its civil war in the seventeenth century.
What will happen now? Simply put, there has to be an election and it has to be soon.
It’s worth mentioning that Boris is not just fighting this current battle in parliament. He took power with an eye focused clearly on the battlefields to come, and none draws his eye more so than the one he will fight with the Brexit Party.
If Boris is propelled into an election while still in the EU, Nigel Farage and his gang will seek to chop the legs off the Conservatives in every Leave-leaning constituency. He considers this more dangerous than having to defend his Remain flanks from the Lib Dem surge.
It can be assumed that he hopes to mitigate these challenges by weaving the narrative of the election into one of the people vs parliament. He will cast himself as the noble Tribune who seeks to defend the will of the plebs against the bad-loser patricians who seek to keep them tethered to Brussels.
Either way, such talk is not relevant until parliament deigns to grant him an election. And as of writing, it would appear that Labour do not want to do so until after the Oct 31st has passed.
There is a bit of friction in the Labour thinking about this; those closest to Jeremy Corbyn want an election ASAP, but the majority of MPs and the shadow chancellor, John McDonald, think it would be better to allow the threat of no-deal be taken off the table.
Strategically, there are so many variables and potential flash points, that it is honestly impossible to assume which tactic will prove the most successful. One thing Labour must do is pick a side on Brexit.
They appear to have coalesced around backing a second referendum, but they repeatedly stutter and stammer when asked how they will campaign in that referendum. Any such dithering will not be tolerated in this election. Unlike 2017, this one will absolutely be a simple choice between leave and remain.
Predictions about who will win and who lose this inevitable election that has not yet been called are as pointless as all the soothsaying that was made before the Brexit referendum and the 2017 General Election.
Crisis and drama happen hourly now in Westminster, and there will be many more surprises and standoffs before the MPs even begin knocking on doors. However, I will commit the classic bit of punditry and make a prediction regardless; this vote will finally be the one that decides how and if the UK will leave the EU.