Updated: Mar 3
The Prime Minister will face a showdown in Parliament later today with rebel Conservative and opposition MPs from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and smaller parties planning a bill to stop the UK leaving the EU without a deal on 31st October. The news comes after Mr Johnson made a speech outside Downing Street last night imploring his own MPs to back him and reject what he said was “another pointless” delay being proposed by Labour.
Yesterday, the Westminster rumour mill was working overtime, and speculation of an early general election is at its highest. Reports suggest Boris is considering an early general election if MPs appear likely to succeed in blocking a no-deal Brexit this week. Amid the mounting speculation, the Prime Minister held an emergency Cabinet meeting and met with the wider Conservative parliamentary party before taking to the plinth outside the doors of Number 10. Soon afterwards, there were rumours from Downing Street that the Government would table a motion to hold a general election on 14thOctober if MPs opposed to no deal successfully voted to take control of business in the House of Commons on Tuesday.
This development comes in the wake of Mr Johnson’s actions last week after he said the UK must leave the EU on 31st October, with or without a deal. His decision to enforce this by proroguing Parliament has prompted a number of MPs to unite across party lines to try to prevent the UK leaving without an agreement. This ‘remain coalition’ are expected to put forward legislation today to stop no-deal under “SO24” or Standing Order 24 – the rule allowing MPs to ask for a debate on a “specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration.” A bill like this might force the Prime Minister to seek a three-month extension until 31st January if no withdrawal deal is passed by Parliament by 19th October – the day after the EU leaders’ summit. Controversially, in a leaked copy of the proposed bill there seems to be a clause stipulating that the EU, not the British Government, will take control of the timeline for Brexit – something which might just stop some Tory rebels from backing it.
At the same time, Conservative rebels have been warned by Number 10 that those who support the legislative efforts of the ‘remain coalition’ risk being expelled from the party and de-selection. Up to 20 MPs, including a host of former Cabinet ministers, were told that if they supported Labour in efforts to block ‘no deal’ this week, they would have the whip withdrawn. Not only would this leave them ostracised in Parliament but it would stop them from standing as Conservative MPs at the next election – and it would appear an election is now looming.
Who are the rebels?
Despite the prospect of de-selection it would appear several MPs are expected to support the emergency motion to seize control of the parliamentary timetable. Confirmed rebels include:
There are also a number of Conservative MPs (a further 17 according to The Spectator) who could rebel, but have not yet confirmed. These include senior figures like Rory Stewart, Oliver Letwin, Ken Clarke and Steve Brine. Mr Johnson is set to hold meetings with Conservative rebels in Downing Street this morning.
Yet, despite the swathes of Conservative rebels, certain Labour MPs are also set to stray off the party line. Long-term advocates of Brexit like Kate Hoey and Frank Field are expected to vote with the government while there also a number of MPs who might be swayed by the fact they represent leave-voting seats. These include:
Caroline Flint, Don Valley - 69% Leave
Kevin Barron, Rother Valley - 67% Leave
Dennis Skinner, Bolsover - 70% Leave
Melanie Onn, Great Grimsby - 71% Leave
Ruth Smeeth, Stoke-on-Trent North - 72% Leave
Karl Turner, Kingston upon Hull East - 73% Leave
Lisa Nandy, Wigan - 63% Leave
Stephen Hepburn, Jarrow - 62% Leave
Gloria De Piero, Ashfield - 71% Leave
Mr Johnson will make a statement in the Commons at around 15:30 after which we will hear a rebuttal from Corbyn, who is bound to rebuke him on prorogation and no deal. Then the floor will get thrown open to backbench MPs for a couple of hours of debate. Afterwards, Michael Gove will provide an update on no-deal planning. Then, in the likely event that the Speaker will grant it, the crucial SO24 debate is likely to get underway at around 19.00 with the vote expected at any time between 21.30–22.00.
After today, either Johnson will hold out and win the vote in which case he will be able to continue negotiations and no deal preparations, or we are heading for a General Election motion put forward by the Government, with eyes on Labour as to whether they support this. General elections are usually opportunities that opposition parties grab with both hands, especially when a Government has a working majority of one and a highly controversial Prime Minister. Yet, in keeping with the bizarre political realities of the year so far, we may just witness a Conservative Party which has spent three years dismissing an election now supporting one, and the Labour Party which has spent three years calling for an election now voting against one. Corbyn, who has indicated his full support, is likely to find himself at loggerheads with vulnerable Labour MPs who believe Johnson will win the election and have a mandate to go for a no deal.
To quote Brenda from Bristol, "Oh not another one, for goodness sake!" It's going to be an interesting few days in British politics.