Yet another day of drama over Brexit

The UK parliament returned to session today with prime minister Boris Johnson facing sharp questioning over what he is doing with Brexit. One former Conservative cabinet minister has crossed over to the Liberal Democrats, meaning that Johnson has lost his slim one-vote majority, though given the fluidity of the shifting alliances, whether that means anything significant is not clear. Complicating matters is that there are some people in the opposition who are not opposed to a no-deal Brexit while there are other Conservative MPs who say they are opposed to it, making the situation hard to read. Adding to the chaos is that Johnson says he is making progress on Brexit talks while EU leaders say that the talks are going nowhere. There is also confusion on whether Johnson will call for a general election on October 14, before the Brexit deadline of October 31. An election would be a gamble for all sides, since it is hard to read the mood of the electorate on this issue.

Parliament will vote later today on a motion known as Standing Order #24 (SO24), a rarely-used emergency measure that enables backbenchers to bring forward a bill, and if passed, the opposition is expected to propose a bill that prohibits the no-deal Brexit that Johnson seems to be maneuvering towards. Johnson has warned that any Conservative MP who votes against him or even abstains today will be ‘stripped of the whip’, which is parliamentary-speak meaning that they will not be eligible to be the party’s candidate in the next election. The debate on SO24 will end at 10:00 pm UK time and the vote is expected to begin at around 10:30 pm UK time.

[UPDATE: The motion was carried (i.e., Johnson lost) by a margin of 328 to 301. More than a dozen Conservative MPs voted against him. It looks like Johnson will call for an October general election.]

Of course, the Trump administration has to stick its nose into this. A news report today said that US vice-president Mike Pence met with the Irish taoiseach (the Irish name for the parliamentary leader) Leo Varadkar and pushed for Brexit, saying that the US would make a trade deal with the UK once they leave the EU. Of course, once the UK leaves the EU, they will be at the mercy of the US in any negotiations and you can be sure that any deal that is reached will be at the expense of the people of the UK and to the advantage of US businesses.

But Varadkar has pushed back sharply, saying that Brexit would be deeply divisive and risks the peace that has been attained between Ireland and Northern Ireland as a result of the open borders. EU sources says that Johnson has not offered any concrete alternative plan for Brexit and seems to have even softened his opposition to the creation of a hard border in Ireland, once considered a non-negotiable proposition. Johnson has said that he would meet next week with Varadkar, even though the latter has said that Ireland is not going to negotiate by itself with the UK over the issue of the backstop since that is a matter for all the 27 EU nations.

So there we are.


  1. unit000 says


    21 Tory MPs voted agaimst the government -- all will now apparently lose the Tory whip (i.e. be expelled from the party).

    Johnson can’t call an election on his own. The Fixed Term Parliaments Act requires a 2/3 majority in the Commons to call a general election outside of the fixed terms. In other words, the government can’t call an election unless the Labour party votes for it, and they won’t vote for it until a No Deal Brexit has been ruled out. Johnson’s boxed himself into a corner on this one.

  2. unit000 says

    Among the Tory MPs voting against the governmemt: Ken Clarke, Father of the House (longest serving MP, former Chancellor and Home Secretary), Nicholas Soames (Winston Churchill’s grandson), Phil Hammond (previous Chancellor) Oliver Letwin (former Chancellor), Dominic Grieve (previous Attorney General) Rory Stewart, David Gauke, Justine Greening (all Cabinet Ministers in Theresa May’s government)

  3. file thirteen says

    Thanks, I was wondering what “stripped of the whip” meant.

    So the general election will finally come to pass, but still nothing on Brexit is assured. There is speculation that once parliament has approved an election to take place, AB de PJ will move the election date past October 31, achieving a no-deal Brexit coup regardless of parliament’s will. I have heard that as PM he has the power to unilaterally move the date, although I don’t know what’s involved.

    His spokesman has vigorously denied that AB de PJ would do it, but if it were Chump’s spokesman saying it, or even Chump himself, would you believe them? But even if parliament don’t believe, I don’t know if there is anything they can do to prevent it.

  4. unit000 says

    @ file thirteen

    Johnson can’t call an election without a 2/3 majority in the House of Commons. He can’t call an election unless Labour votes for it. Labour won’t vote for it unless the Benn bill to prevent No Deal is passed.
    What the government can do is call for a Confidence Motion (“I have no confidence in my government.””Neither does anyone else, Boris”) -- but he really doesn’t want to do that. If they lose the confidence motion (which is certain), then MPs have 14 days to form a new government (otherwise there is an election). Those MPs with a reasonably firm grip on reality (i.e. everyone not currently in the Conservative Party or the DUP) would be able to agree a short-term government of national unity in order to prevent a No Deal Brexit, possibly legislate for a second referendum, and call an election at a time of their choosing. Johnson has effectively finished off his own government almost before it began. (well… Dominic Cummings has, if we’re being honest)

  5. unit000 says

    So far as dirty tricks go, the Tory peers in the House of Lords are going to try to (essentially) filibuster the bill by tabling an absurd number of amendments, all of which would need to be discussed. Opposition peers have made it clear that they will keep sitting throught the night, through the weekend if need be. It’s very unclear if Parliament can be prorogued while a House is in session -- there’s not a consensus, but more experts seem to think that it can’t than that it can.

    In the meantime, the government is in limbo -- they are a minority and can expect to lose anything that gets put to a vote.

    I’ve also heard a rumour that the government (again, Dominic Cummings -- Johnson’s chief advisor -- in honesty) has been discussing not sending the bill for Royal Assent when it passes. That would be a constitutional crisis of the first order, and I seriously doubt Johnson could keep his remaining MPs together if he tried to pull that.

    Meanwhile, there are 3 ongoing legal cases (in London, Edinburgh and Belfast) to prevent the prorogation of parliament.

    We live in interesting times. Unfortunately.

  6. mastmaker says

    Two of the 7 or 8 major powers in the world (dare I say the two biggest in the West?) are essentially without a ‘functional’ government. Is this the beginning of a worldwide ‘anarchic’ period or is it the beginning of WWIII? Anyone got a crystal ball?

  7. unit000 says


    The UK’s nowhere near being the second biggest power in the West, however you want to conceptualise that. At best, it’s 3rd in terms of EU nations.

  8. blf says

    So far as dirty tricks go, the Tory peers in the House of Lords are going to try to (essentially) filibuster the bill by tabling an absurd number of amendments, all of which would need to be discussed.

    Perhaps, but probably not… from the Grauniad’s live NKofE blog† (written before the SO24 vote in the commons):

    Lords to debate motion that would prevent pro-Brexit peers delaying Benn bill debate beyond Friday

    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.

    Commenting on her plan, Smith said:

    Should MPs agree to the proposed bill, it would be completely unacceptable for the government to try and use its peers to scupper that legislation. In fact, it would go against a key constitutional principle of the primacy of the elected House of Commons — the House of Lords does not block laws agreed by MPs.

    My business motion invites peers to debate and discuss the bill in an orderly way, including an additional sitting this Friday, to allow full consideration of the proposals before next week’s scheduled prorogation of parliament.

      † NKofE — N.Korea of Europe. Both N.Korea (Asia) and teh “U”K are run by an nuclear-armed paranoid authoritarian cabal with no interest in the welfare of the population outside a small group of kleptomaniacs.

  9. blf says

    @6/@7, Arguably, three of the top 7/8 are without an functional government — there’s also Italy, albeit a new (but probably unstable) government is now forming…

  10. file thirteen says

    @unitooo #4

    AB de PJ has stated that even if Benn passes, he would refuse to ask the EU for an extension even though legally bound to do so (on October 19th). But I guess if that happened, a no-confidence vote would follow, and an interim government would be formed as you described; then the extension could be requested. Not a lot of time left for all that to happen though! Talk about being on the brink of disaster!!

  11. Trickster Goddess says

    At the very least they should put the Brexit agreement itself to a referendum instead of just crashing out.

  12. Holms says

    Adding to the chaos is that Johnson says he is making progress on Brexit talks while EU leaders say that the talks are going nowhere.

    This item at least is easy to parse: Johnson is lying.

  13. blf says

    Addendum/correction to my @8, where I pointed out the lords filibustering the Benn bill (which prevents a no-deal brexit) probably won’t work because the rebel alliance is planning to introduce a measure to ensure a vote on the Benn bill in a timely manner, and that measure is likely to pass. However, overlooked is the motion to prevent a Benn bill filibuster can itself be filibustered, and that seems to be the plan (from the current Grauniad blog):

    Media attention will mostly be focused on the Commons this afternoon [Wednesday 4th September], but in the Lords peers are also gearing up for what should be an epic display of filibustering.

    Peers are debating a business motion tabled by Labour designed to ensure that, if the Benn bill intended to stop a no-deal Brexit on 31 October goes to the Lords tomorrow, it can clear all its stages by 5pm on Friday. A business motion is needed because in the Lords bills are not subject to programme motions, meaning in theory debates can go on forever. The Lib Dems support the business motion and so, given that the Tories do not have a majority, it should pass.

    But before peers get to vote on it they will have to debate the amendments to the business motion. On today’s order paper […] there are 86 of them. In the Lords every amendment normally gets debated, and peers are normally free to speak for as long as they want, making it filibustering heaven. The only way to fast-track a vote is to move a closure motion. But even these take time, because peers first have to vote for the closure motion, and then vote for the amendment. So, in theory, 86 amendments could translated into 172 votes.

    It probably won’t go on quite that long but Dick Newby, the Lib Dem leader in the Lords, has arrived for work prepared for a long night [tweeting]: “Arriving in Lords with duvet, change of clothes and shaving kit. Could take us a while to see off 86 wrecking amendments on timetable motion today/tomorrow.”

  14. unit000 says

    @ John Morales

    Point taken, though I’d suggest that there’s more to power than wealth alone. It’s pretty difficult to quantify though.

  15. blf says

    An aside on “major power”, that reminds me of a point I started making before the last French presidential election (Marcon vs  nazi Le Pen): That France was the only nuclear-armed country not under the control of an authoritarian government (then, and still now). All the orders were (then, and still are now): US (hair furor), UK (then May, now Johnson), Israel (Netanyahu), India (Modi), Pakistan, Big China, and Russia.

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