How Labour can stop no-deal

Dominic Cummings told ministers and officials that the Prime Minister will honour his October 31 pledge.

Dominic Cummings told colleagues that it it now too late for parliament to stop a no-deal Brexit (Credit: AP)

By Nick Palmer (at LabourList)

The Tory strategy is now fairly clear:

  1. Make the EU an offer they can’t accept. (“Scrap the backstop before we’ll even talk to you.”)
  2. When they refuse, go for no deal. If parliament passes a vote of no confidence, play for time.
  3. Call an election in November. (“I promised to deliver Brexit and I have! Isn’t that amazing? Now give me a mandate to sort out the obstreperous Europeans and the foot-dragging parliament.”)
  4. When problems arise, blame parliament and the Europeans equally. (“That’s why we need a proper majority, init?”)

Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s controversial adviser, has been reported as gleefully telling colleagues that it it now too late for parliament to stop the process. He has apparently said that parliament can ‘VONC’ Johnson, but the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act enables HIM to call an election for after October 31 anyway.

This is false, for an interesting reason. What the FTPA says is that an election is triggered (and the timing determined by the Prime Minister) after a 14-day period where no majority emerges for a different Prime Minister. Cummings is counting on parliament being unable to agree on an alternative PM.

Now most people (not just in Labour) agree that no deal is a seriously bad outcome – for the country and incidentally also for Labour, since it’s quite possible that Johnson can win on the basis above. What can we do about it? First, let’s put aside factional agenda, both because they’re not as important as stopping a catastrophe and because they won’t work.

The ideal Labour option would be to say: “Parliament has no confidence in Johnson. Let Labour sort things out.” But that means persuading all of the Lib Dems and the SNP and Plaid Cymru and the Tory rebels to nominate Jeremy Corbyn to lead a left-wing government as Prime Minister for the coming years. Is that going to happen? Probably not.

The anti-Corbyn option, conversely, is to break up the political parties and form a centrist “government of national unity” under, say, Ken Clarke. That would break the Labour Party as it did in 1931. And, on a purely practical level, it’s really not going to happen within two weeks, is it?

But there’s a way through. Labour can offer a deal:

“Give Corbyn a limited mandate, with a commitment to:

  1. Negotiate an extension for three months with the EU.
  2. Call a general election to decide whether to proceed with the insane no deal project.”

Nothing else. No radical reforms, urgently needed though they are. No tax changes. Nothing else.

The EU would certainly agree to a short extension for an election that might lead to Britain staying in – they’ve said so repeatedly. The Tory rebels don’t need to sign up to years of left-wing government. And, more subtly, Labour has a decent chance in the following election, as the party that stopped no deal. Moreover, even three months in office will show that Corbyn is not the fiend incarnate that the Tory media like to suggest.

It’s still difficult. The Tory rebels will be unlikely to get reselected – but that’s true even if they vote for a VONC in the first place. Labour might lose the election: there are no certainties in politics. But it’s a way to prevent a disaster and give a decent chance at government. In these desperate times, that’s a prize beyond price.

Nick Palmer

5 thoughts on “How Labour can stop no-deal

  1. Johnson can’t go for No Deal at the end of October. He knows it will lead to catastrophe. It would quickly lead to him being ousted, the Tories destroyed, and demands for an emergency re-entry on worse terms. The Tory strategy is actually to try to continue with the “NO DEAL” bluff, just ramped up with all this machismo, in the expectation that the EU will blink, and offer some other deal. Stories in the press today nonsensically claiming that the UK holds all the cards, are simply an indication of that.

    And nobody really believes that Johnson is going to pull the trigger, including the EU. That is why the Pound has not collapsed more than it has. If anyone really thought that he was going to blow Britain’s brains out the Pound would already have dropped below parity with the Dollar and the Euro. The EU will not offer a deal, because they know a) he’s not going to pull the trigger, and b) even if he did, by some political accident, it would be Britain that would go into such a crisis, not the EU, that Britain’s position would be fatally wounded, including the need to supplicate itself for reentry under whatever terms it could obtain.

    Johnson is really hoping that either a) the EU does somehow believe his empty bluff (which it won’t) and do some face saving deal, or b) parliament will save him, by voting down No Deal. His worst case scenario is that the EU gives him nothing, and he’s left trying to actually leave on No Deal come October 31st., because he knows he can’t do that and survive, and nor would the Tories as a party.

    Still, it would be better to avoid the disaster that would arise were he to fall into No Deal by accident. So, Labour should be arguing the need for a General Election, in which Labour should commit to immediately revoking Article 50. It should rally parliamentary support for a No Confidence motion on that basis at the earliest opportunity.


  2. Winston Churchill said that some people worry all their lives about things that will never happen. You Boffy are an extreme pessimist and capitulator.


    1. On the contrary. I am extremely optimistic that the labour movement can defeat the reactionary agenda of Brexit, and, I have no intention of capitulating to it, or those that promote it.


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