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The man who helped stop a No Deal Brexit earlier this year is confident there is a majority in Parliament for dealing with Brexit first and having an election after

September 12th, 2019

If you’re betting against a 2019 general election (and expecting another referendum) then Oliver Letwin has great news for you.

There’s a fascinating interview with Oliver Letwin today, the man who helped prevent a No Deal Brexit earlier on this year.

Who’s the most powerful politician in Britain? Usually it’s the Prime Minister. But not always, and not today.

Thanks to his mistakes of the past fortnight, Boris Johnson has made himself the prisoner of Parliament. He can’t go forward, can’t retreat and can’t call an election.

Sometimes power lies with an Opposition leader on course for Downing Street — think Tony Blair in 1996 and David Cameron in 2009. But Jeremy Corbyn is an impediment to his party’s victory and an obstacle to it forming a government with Lib Dem and SNP support.

So who’s calling the shots these days?

Step forward the unlikely figure of Sir Oliver Letwininterviewed by the Evening Standard today.

Don’t be beguiled by his impeccable manners and self-effacing charm. This one-time Tory loyalist — described by Mr Cameron as his “real Deputy Prime Minister” — is now at the centre of the rebel alliance that holds in its hands the fate of the Government, the timing of the election and the future of Brexit.

There are others worth mentioning in dispatches — the Grieves, Benns, Gaukes, Coopers, Boleses and Hammonds. But it has been Sir Oliver — who has brought that combination of razor-sharp intellect, long experience of high office and an inexhaustible willingness to listen to others — that has held together and steered this disparate group.

As he says today, in politics “what takes time is not drafting or procedure but getting a consensus among people of widely varying allegiances”. 

He took the trouble and endless hours of patience required to do that, where Theresa May, and now Mr Johnson, did not.

The result? Sir Oliver, with his colleagues, is now in charge of what happens next. So it is worth paying close attention to what he tells us today.

First, he is clear that the Brexiteers have a clear and simple path to their cherished goal of leaving the EU. They need to vote for a deal agreed with Brussels, as he did on three occasions. If Mr Johnson presents a new deal, Sir Oliver will be back on side.

Second, there is no way Britain will leave without a deal.

Sir Oliver and his alliance have made sure of that. His law will force the Government to seek an extension to our EU membership.

He’s confident he’s closed off all other escape routes the geniuses in Downing Street dreamt up in the war games that led to their inept decision to prorogue Parliament. Note too, in his interview, Sir Oliver’s quiet insistence that Number 10 will be forced to disclose its confidential messages that informed that decision, or “be found in contempt of Parliament”.

That could prove that the PM lied to the Cabinet and the Queen, which he today denies.

But third, and most interestingly, Sir Oliver today reveals that he thinks “we need to resolve this issue of Brexit before there is a general election”.

If that cannot be achieved through a deal to leave, then there will have to be a referendum. This is a crucial new development.

The Tory high command have assumed that if they can’t have a general election on their preferred timetable before October 31, they could have one in November or December — and they could still cast it as a “Parliament versus the people” contest. But Sir Oliver is one step ahead of them.

He is confident that there is a majority in Parliament for dealing with Brexit first and having an election after.

So if the Commons doesn’t support a deal — and all the evidence of the last year suggests it won’t — then it will vote to delay an election until 2020, and have a referendum before that.

Whether Mr Johnson is still imprisoned in Downing Street while this happens is a secondary question.

My own view is that another referendum before we’ve left will not resolve things, whatever the result, but that won’t stop Parliament ensuring the Vote Leave commitment to Leave with a deal is honoured or we Remain.

Back in March many pragmatic Leavers that I knew wondered and feared that the ERG had blown Brexit and that we’d never Leave, their fears may have been confirmed by this interview. Earlier on this summer Boris Johnson said the UK leaving without a deal was a million to one, turns out he may well be right.

As Alastair Meeks noted on the previous thread, ‘Nice to see George Osborne agrees with me that any leader of an anti-no deal government will probably be a Labour figure’, that also has major betting implications.

TSE