So there we have it. Barring a successful legal challenge, Parliament will be suspended for roughly five weeks between September 9th and October 14th.Boris Johnson claims this is necessary for a Queen’s speech to be held and domestic legislation to be tabled.
Everyone knows that is nonsense because a Queen’s speech does not require Parliament to be suspended for a whole five weeks and the government has no parliamentary time and/or majority for domestic legislation anyway. So what is actually afoot here?
There is going to be a general election soon. Even if the government can deliver Brexit by October 31stthrough constitutional hardball, they still have to govern and their working majority is only one. The choice for Boris Johnson’s team, then, is whether they want that election to happen before or after Britain leaves the European Union without a deal.
The latter scenario is extremely risky for the Conservative Party. Even if the more optimistic assessments on no-deal are right, it would still produce a short term period of uncertainty and economic turbulence. Any government would be mad to go to the country during such a climate. And what if the result is a minority Labour government propped up by the Liberal Democrats and/or the SNP? Britain probably rejoins the Single Market and Customs Union and the Brexiteer’s efforts were for nothing. Congratulations, you’ve played yourself.
An election before October 31st, meanwhile, produces far better odds for Boris Johnson. As long as they can win a comfortable majority, it doesn’t really matter how bad no-deal is because they don’t have to seek another mandate for five years. All they need is for Parliament to give them an excuse, and that’s where suspension comes in.
Despite all the panic and talk of a ‘constitutional crisis’, Parliament still has plenty of constitutional means of stopping no-deal, including replacing the government. This is a political crisis, where the barriers for opponents of a no-deal Brexit are a lack of will and determination. Every legislative option that was available to opposition parties when they met yesterday remains on the table. All today’s announcement really does is create a greater sense of urgency, meaning that any action by MPs to block no-deal must take place immediately (i.e. next week).
To that effect, the government’s actions, including the lie that such a long suspension is necessary for domestic legislation on police and health, clearly point to a ‘People vs Parliament’ election in October. Let’s say MPs return next week and, with the help of Speaker Bercow, rapidly move on anti-no deal legislation. The government can use that as an excuse to claim that not only is Parliament blocking Brexit, but also action on policing and the NHS, and that is why an election is now necessary. Such an election will be extremely ugly. No one can predict what the result will be. But it remains a far better gamble for Boris Johnson than going to the polls at the height of no-deal chaos.
I could very well be wrong, but such is the nature of things as events unfold at a breakneck pace and when no one outside of Johnson’s inner circle truly knows what Downing Street is planning. Ultimately, if you believe that the Conservative Party is still led by rational actors (that is, in terms of political survival) you must also ask why it benefits them to enrage the anti-no dealers on their own backbenches and create a greater sense of urgency for Parliament to act.
Photo by Rckr88 on Flickr.