Rebel alliance launches last battle of Brexit
Is Britain facing a coup? In the next three days, Boris Johnson seems set to neutralise Parliament and force a no-deal Brexit. A multi-party bloc of MPs is desperately trying to stop him.
Tomorrow, Parliament returns to one of the most momentous and dramatic weeks in British political history.
In the balance hangs Britain’s role in the world, the leadership of the country, the livelihoods of millions, and the health of British democracy.
Over the weekend, thousands took to the streets against a no-deal Brexit — not just in London, but across the country in towns such as Leamington Spa, Doncaster and Dundee. “Chichester is cross,” proclaimed one banner.
Ramping up the pressure yesterday, the EU’s lead negotiator Michel Barnier published an article flatly rejecting the Government’s demand that the Irish backstop be banned.
Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer said a “Remain alliance” of Liberal Democrat, Conservative and Labour MPs was ready to outlaw Brexit in Parliament by the end of the week.
Cabinet minister and head of Brexit planning, Michael Gove, refused to say that the Government would abide by the law if it was passed.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said any Conservative joining the rebels this week would be banned from standing as a Tory at the next election — which could be within days if the Government is defeated in Parliament.
It emerged during the weekend that both Labour and Conservatives are getting ready for an election. In recent days, the Government has promised a splurge of spending on police, health and education — clearly designed to win votes.
What might happen this week? All four of the possibilities are highly unusual.
First, the Speaker looks likely to allow an emergency debate enabling rebels to take over the parliamentary timetable. This means that they could try to push through laws stopping a Halloween Brexit by Thursday.
Second, if this fails, there could be a vote of no confidence in the Government, leading to a chance for another leader to get a majority in Parliament and take over.
Third, former Tory prime minister John Major has gone to court to ask for a ruling on whether the Government is acting illegally.
Fourth, MPs might even appeal to the Queen to stop the process. But this is the most complex and least likely of options.
Behind all this lies a deeper argument. Just as Britain faces the most crucial period in its recent history, Boris Johnson had declared that Parliament, the sovereign power in the land, will be completely suspended or “prorogued” from next Monday until 14 October. There will be very few days left for any debate before a hard Brexit happens automatically on 31 October. Has the Government carried off a spectacular coup against democracy itself?
The dark side?
What a hysterical claim, say the likes of Johnson, Gove and their supporters. In 2016, the biggest poll in British political history came out in favour of leaving the EU. Parliament then approved the Withdrawal Act in June 2018 after 272 hours debate. If the Act takes place on 31 October, how can this be anti-democratic?
This totally misses the point, say members of the “rebel alliance”. People did not vote in 2016 for a hard Brexit leading to lost jobs, a weaker pound and a future in the pocket of the USA. People do not want Parliament to lose its voice in the debate. And people hate the pretence that the suspension of Parliament “has nothing to do with Brexit”.
- Is politics finally getting quite exciting?
- Is it wrong to use language like “coup” or “death of democracy”?
- Using the expert links, make a parliamentary calendar from now until Brexit day on Halloween.
- Compose a letter (on just one side of paper) to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, setting out what you think he should be doing.
Some People Say...
“There is light at the end of the tunnel. I do not believe the British people want more tunnel.”Michael Gove
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- That the battle lines are drawn and the forces are poised to clash. We know the battleground will be Parliament and the conflict will take place from tomorrow morning. We know that both sides are willing to throw everything they have got into the fight. But this is all sabre-rattling and we do well to understand that there is very little concrete, definite, factual detail here.
- What do we not know?
- Whether MPs will extend Parliament through the weekend to the prorogation date next week. We clearly don’t know whether the Government will be forced to accept a new law outlawing a hard Brexit on Halloween. If there is a new law passed by Parliament, we don’t know if the Government will put it forward for Royal Assent, which means it won’t, strictly, be law at all. And that’s just the beginning of what we don’t know.
- Michel Barnier
- A French politician and, since December 2016, the EU's Chief Negotiator for the United Kingdom Exiting the European Union.
- The Speaker is the chief officer and highest authority of the House of Commons and must remain politically impartial at all times. During debates, the Speaker keeps order and calls MPs to speak.
- Vote of no confidence
- A no-confidence vote is the main way of toppling the government of the day. It involves all MPs voting on a motion in the House of Commons that says they have “confidence” or “no confidence” in Her Majesty’s Government.