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.