The recurring story of the summer recess is the plot to form a government of national unity in order to thwart any No. 10 plans for a no-deal Brexit. Anti no-deal MPs have discussed voting down Boris Johnson’s government when Parliament returns in September and then using the two week grace period that follows to form a government of national unity. There are several catches to this plan – one potentially big flaw is that people in No. 10 believe Johnson can simply refuse to stand down, wait the two weeks out and then decide the date of the election that would follow. However, the biggest problem is that to even get to that point, anti no-deal MPs need to find a leader that a majority of MPs can rally around.
Today Jeremy Corbyn attempted to pitch himself as that person. The Labour leader has written a letter urging the leaders of the other opposition parties and Tory rebels to install him as caretaker PM in order to stop a no-deal Brexit. Corbyn says that if they got behind him, he would use his time as caretaker prime minister to delay Brexit, call a snap election and campaign for another referendum. Already the list of MPs vetoing the idea is long. Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson has said she would not support such a plan, anti no-deal Tory Caroline Spelman has also vetoed the idea.
An idea that’s backfired on Labour? Quite the opposite. For weeks now there has been chatter over who could lead a government of national unity, with names like Ken Clarke and Hilary Benn being mentioned. The problem has been that members of the Labour frontbench have said they could only back a government led by Corbyn. This led anti-Brexit MPs – including the Liberal Democrats – to accuse Jeremy Corbyn of aiding Brexit and not being serious about stopping no deal.
By offering himself up today – and pitching it as a serious offer – the tables have turned. Jo Swinson now has to explain why, if she really wants to stop a no-deal Brexit, she is unable to support Corbyn to get there. She is unable to say which is worse: no deal or prime minister Corbyn. It’s unlikely that a majority of MPs will unite around Corbyn. But by making the offer, the Labour leader has managed to spread some of the blame should the so-called government of ‘national unity’ fail to emerge.