The former Tory MP Dominic Grieve may have voted against the parliamentary recess for Conservative party conference, but that certainly hasn’t kept him away from the action this week. The now independent MP showed up in Manchester yesterday, and this afternoon attended a ‘Conservatives for a People’s Vote’ event at the aptly named (for a man with few allies inside the hall) ‘Friends House’ outside the conference area.
As expected, the MP first used his platform to launch attacks on Boris Johnson’s government. Grieve said reports that he and his Remain allies had sought help from the French to draft the Benn bill were a serious piece of ‘defamation’ and that Number 10 had overseen a ‘culture war’ and ‘corruption of our political system’.
More interesting though were his remarks on the Remain alliance’s strategy over the next three weeks. Grieve began by saying the government’s hints that there may be a loophole in the Benn Act – which will attempt to force the PM to ask for a Brexit extension – were ‘disinformation’, which is being spread to ‘destabilise’ and foment ‘disharmony’ among the anti-no deal coalition.
Instead of reacting, he suggested that his colleagues should simply sit tight and let the Benn Act take its course. He argued that suggestions that there is a way round the bill are ‘farfetched’ and even if Boris Johnson resigned rather than sent a letter to the EU, his successor would simply have to deliver it instead, as ‘the law of the land requires the letter to be written.’
Grieve seemed less confident though about what will happen if an extension is agreed with the EU, which puts off the next Brexit deadline until January. He said if there was a general election soon after, either at the end of November or beginning of December, this would not solve the Remain alliance’s problem, as it is unlikely that any government will have a majority in Parliament after an election. The country would then only be a few weeks away from ‘crashing out’ once again, and there was a risk the EU may have had enough of the constant Brexit extensions.
To avoid this, he urged MPs instead to back a second referendum, which he said there was now a majority for in the House of Commons. Back in March this year, only 268 MPs backed a second referendum in the indicative votes process – but now Labour have made a referendum their official party policy, Grieve’s allies clearly believe it may be possible to win another vote. Others in the Commons agree – both Tom Watson and Oliver Letwin have said they believe a second referendum should take place before a general election. What this ragtag bunch would do afterwards is still somewhat ambiguous though. Grieve said that the government which implements the second referendum would have to be a government of national unity. There are, apparently, a ‘number of names’ in the running to lead the country through this period, but Grieve said it was key that it not be headed by any of the current party leaders. How this will be squared with Labour’s current plans to take the reins of power, negotiate a new Brexit deal, and then hold a second referendum remains to be seen.
What is clear though, is that Grieve’s Remain coalition is going to use every tool at their disposal to prevent Boris Johnson holding an election to break the Brexit deadlock.