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If Boris plays the system on Brexit, Corbyn can hardly complain

12 August 2019

12:22 PM

12 August 2019

12:22 PM

A standard version of this autumn’s events is beginning to emerge. Labour brings a no-confidence vote in the Government on 4 September. The Tories, down to a majority of one – and with several Conservative old-timers vowing to go out in style by torpedoing their own Government in a last act of defiance to stop a no-deal Brexit – loses.

Rather than resign, Boris spends the 14 days he would be allowed under the Fixed Term Parliament Act trying to build a majority. He fails. And Corbyn, too, is unable to form a majority. Boris calls a general election – but crucially stretches it out just beyond 31 October, when we drop out of the EU without a deal. No further Parliamentary efforts can be made to stop no deal because the Commons will be prorogued for the election. 

Would that be outrageous? In some ways, yes. Boris would quite clearly be playing the system. He would have achieved the no deal outcome he promised, not by convincing MPs that it was the right thing to do, but by using procedural means to thwart efforts to tie his opponents’ hands.

Trouble is, could Remainers and opposition parties really complain? If Jeremy Corbyn steps up to accuse Boris of showing contempt for democracy by ignoring the result of a no-confidence vote, he will have a very big problem – because he did exactly the same.

In 2016, he lost a no-confidence vote among his MPs. Rather than resign, as many people assumed he would, he stuck it out – and won a subsequent leadership election. Boris would effectively be doing just the same.   

Corbyn might accuse the Prime Minister of acting outside the spirit of the Fixed Term Parliament Act. He might also argue that is creators did not intend that a defeated prime minister would carry on in the job, but the same could be said of the Labour party constitution.

Its creators, too, perhaps didn’t see the need to write in a rule insisting that a defeated leader resign because they assumed that he would just do it regardless. Corbyn played the system – just as Boris might go on to do.

It is the same with some Remainers. Haven’t they, too, been trying to play the system by attempting to get the Queen to sack Boris, or to drag every aspect of Brexit through the courts?

The Speaker, John Bercow, invoked a 17th century device to try to block Theresa May bringing her deal back to the Commons – this from a man who in many other respects had scorned long-held traditions. Right from the beginning, arch-Remainers have fought dirty. They can’t much complain if the Government now does the same.

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