Archive for the 'Boris' Category


MPs back the deal but block the timetable

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019


Johnson’s problem is that his actions since becoming PM have led to him being totally mistrusted and disbelieved

Monday, October 21st, 2019

Why getting the timetable motion through is going to be a struggle

Above is Hillary Benn on a key issue of which MPs have only been aware tonight. Inevitably given the Cumming shenanigans since September there is a total lack of trust – something that would not have happened in TMay’s day.

Every single line and measure is going to be scrutinised to ensure that the PM is not pulling a fast one. September’s prorogation move that had to be stopped by the Supreme Court to all the other apparently smart moves briefed by Cumming have just create an atmosphere of total distrust.

The fight tomorrow is on a timetable motion as Johnson tries to meet his self-imposed deadline and avoid proper scrutiny.

Mike Smithson


Johnson’s phantom majority: why we’re heading for a Christmas election

Saturday, October 19th, 2019

His deal won’t pass, even if the numbers are there

Boris Johnson has a problem and it’s not the one that most of the Westminster Village spent yesterday pondering. It is, however, one that gives the lie to the aphorism of the PM’s namesake, the 36th president of the United States, that “the first rule of politics is that its practitioners need to be able to count”. It’s not: that’s the second rule. The first rule is that its practitioners need to understand the rules.

There is no point being able to count if it turns out that you’re counting the wrong thing, or at the wrong time. For it looks as if just as he might have found a majority for his deal – courtesy of an abundance of goodwill among both the Spartan wing of the ERG and the Ind Con Burt-rebels, combined with a decidedly weak Labour whipping operation in the circumstances – he won’t be able to bring that majority to bear.

That such a majority might well be there in the first place is extraordinary. I tweeted a thread yesterday where I rated the chance of his deal being approved at less than 15%. In retrospect, I might have under-rated that but not by much. The odds were definitely stacked against the government.

Even now, we have to remember that if Johnson retained the support of the entire Conservative parliamentary party and gained the voluntary backing of all the whipless wonders who resigned or were booted out over the Benn Act, he’d still need 10 opposition MPs to offset the loss of the DUP. May only managed 9 on the third meaningful vote: 5 Labour, 2 ex-Lab Independents, 1 ex-LD Independent and Lady Hermon. Obviously, that requirement increases if Boris can’t bring home a full house of Con / Ind Con MPs but the number of Labour MPs already going public with their support suggests Johnson might well be able to win the vote.

But here’s the problem: that vote might well never take place. An amendment tabled by Oliver Letwin boots any vote on the deal until after (or into) the votes on the legislation to implement the Agreement. Of itself, there is some sense to this. One short route to a No Deal exit was to approve the deal (which would then have avoided triggering the requirement of the Benn Act to seek an extension) but then not to implement it. Letwin’s amendment closes that risk off. However, by its nature, it does a lot else besides.

If the amendment passes (and assuming that any attempt to authorise a No Deal Brexit fails, which it will), then the PM will have to seek that extension and despite the noises coming out of Brussels this week, the answer will almost certainly be a weary ‘yes’. For all sorts of reasons, we have to assume that the amendment will have more support than the main motion and that therefore it’ll be all-but impossible for the government to get the deal approved unfettered. All that counting yesterday would be for naught.

That said, creating an unlikely majority and then not being able to do anything with it has been the story of Brexit since day one.

In fact, the true risk for the government (and one that’s been surprisingly unnoticed so far, even by those commentators who have understood the importance of the Letwin amendment), is also similar to the rest of Brexit: the majority disappears as soon as you get into the detail.

Without the DUP, the government’s majority plunges to -63, which is hardly a stable base on which to push through a complex and controversial piece of legislation. There would be absolutely every chance of both Commons and Lords mauling whatever the government put forward, and tying all sorts of undesired conditions into ratification.

Chief among the amendments we could expect would be to make ratification dependent upon a confirmatory referendum. It is just possible that Corbyn might withhold Labour support from such a move as it would close off his ability to negotiate his own Brexit deal but that prospect is becoming more and more fanciful. If he doesn’t, there’s every chance that the amendment would pass.

Such a development would be unwelcome to the government, to put it mildly. How then do they forestall it? The obvious answer (albeit a contingent one) is to force and win a general election.

Corbyn has called for an immediate election dozens of times in the last few months and while he had a justifiable case for opposing it in September, when it really would have played fast and loose with No Deal and made the production of an agreement probably impossible, that argument falls away as soon as an extension is agreed. For Labour to then vote against a dissolution would appear both cowardly and hypocritical, especially if all the other parties were in favour, as is likely. For what it’s worth, I think Corbyn would back the call, as he did in 2017 in similarly unpropitious circumstances.

However, so big is the threat to Johnson’s Brexit plans and so little control would he have over an extended legislative process to implement the deal that I think he’d also need to issue a threat of the nuclear political option. (Before exploring that, let’s note that if the deal passes without amendment, Johnson might be able to ram an Act through parliament using the 31 Oct deadline as the anvil: the time pressures and his willingness to No Deal if necessary might just be enough; an extension would completely destroy any chance of those tactics working).

If parliament refused to endorse the deal (even if by kicking the can), and also refused a dissolution, Johnson could threaten to resign in the reasonably secure knowledge that no-one else could form a government. After all, if it couldn’t be done in September when the pressure really was on, it won’t be doable now. The cost to such an action would be to let Corbyn into Number 10 and allow him the trappings of office for an election campaign but the prize would be that campaign.

Such a threat though returns us to the First Rule. If Johnson carried it through, we’d probably be looking at a Dec 19 election: not a happy prospect for anyone and one that’d certainly give pause for thought for any party reliant on younger voters and/or those without postal votes. Or, for that matter, any party seeking to drag the focus away from Brexit.

Which is one of several reasons I don’t think MPs would want to go there. By contrast, an election triggered by a dissolution motion next week and allowing for a brief wash-up session (although presumably excluding the scheduled Budget), would point to a polling day of December 5.

A December election (which of course covers either option), is available at 3/1 and that, to me, is very good value.

David Herdson


Dealing with the Brexit trilemma : How Johnson’s approach differed from TMay’s

Friday, October 18th, 2019

A guest slot from Timothy Hinton

I have consistently misunderstood the Brexit options open to the UK as existing on a continuum, from the softest Single Market + Customs Union extreme on one end to the hardest No Deal extreme on the other. The choices made by Boris Johnson, and the relative speed with which the UK and EU were able to reach agreement on a radically different deal, have made it clear that the main options have been much more discrete.

If we consider the December 2017 Joint Report we can see that Brexit is a classic example of an impossible trinity, or trilemma. There exist three options, of which a Brexit deal can consist of only two. The three options are: (1) to avoid regulatory divergence between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (thus supporting the all-Ireland economy and the Good Friday Agreement), (2) to avoid regulatory divergence between Great Britain and Northern Ireland (thus preserving the Union), (3) to create regulatory divergence between Great Britain and the EU (thus taking back control).

Remainers and the EU have been successful in ensuring that respecting the Good Friday Agreement must be one of the two options chosen. The UK would not choose No Deal. The EU would stand by Ireland. The fundamental choice for the UK has then been between preserving the Union and taking back control. One factor that helped to obscure the reality of this choice was the magical thinking from many Leavers that there was a technological solution that would allow all three options in the trilemma to be chosen, or that the UK could simply walk away from its commitment to the GFA without any serious repercussions (for example to its international reputation).

With Johnson’s deal we can see that reality has imposed itself and a different choice to May has been made. While May’s choice was for preserving the Union, Johnson’s has been for taking back control. Making the distinction in this way I can understand why the more extreme Leavers would be happier with Johnson’s deal, and how much opposition Remainers and the DUP lost by opposing May’s deal.

The alternative to May’s Deal was never going to be a softer Brexit, or one with stronger ties between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as it was the softer of the two available options in the Brexit Trilemma that put preserving the Union ahead of taking back control.

One argument that has been made to justify the opposition of Remainers to May’s deal was that it would have been wrong for Remainer MPs to effectively impose a deal on Leaver MPs that they did not consent to. If the ERG do vote with very few exceptions for Johnson’s deal that argument would suggest that Remainers should not stand in the way of its passage. However, perhaps there is still an argument for a second referendum. The public have not been involved in the choice between the three options of the Brexit trilemma.

There now exist two deals which represent the two combinations of the trilemma that respect the Good Friday Agreement. Perhaps we ought to put the choice between May’s Deal, and Johnson’s, to a public vote?

Timothy Hinton posts on PB as oblitussumme


As Johnson edges towards to the 11pm Brexit deadline the betting money’s still on a pre-Brexit general election

Tuesday, October 15th, 2019

Chart of Betfair movements from

On a day when so much seems to be changing on a Brexit dale there has not been as much betting movement as you might have thought. Still the view is that Brexit’s not going to happen immediately and not before a new general election.

Tonight is just the first hurdle. If there is a draft deal that will have to be agreed by the EU27 at their meeting later in the week. And then if we have got that far Johnson will have to take it to the House of Commons at the special Saturday sitting.

From what is emerging Johnson appears to be ready to make huge concessions including having the Irish Sea as the border something that TMay turned down. I wonder if she will participate in Saturday’s debate.

Mike Smithson


“Honouring” the referendum should apply to not just to the outcome but what the official Leave campaign said

Tuesday, October 15th, 2019

Things are different now the country’s being led by Cummings/Johnson

Lots of talk at moment about “honouring the Referendum”. Fair enough.

Those who espouse that seem to look to the result itself rather than the promises and assertions made my the official Leave campaign in the run up to the June 23rd 2016 vote.

It was harder to make this argument when TMay was PM for she had not been responsible for what Vote Leave said.

Since Johnson became PM and recruited Cummings as his lead aide then there should be less excuse for not following the statements that the campaign was making. They should be accountable not just for their actions now but for all that Vote Leave said during the campaign. This is what they were responsible for and what helped voters to make up their minds.

So any deal needs to be judged against their assertions at the time.

Mike Smithson


With 16 days to go punters make it just a 22% chance that UK will leave the EU by the end of the month

Tuesday, October 15th, 2019

Chart of movements on the Betfair exchange from

The big news for those betting on whether there will be an exit from the EU this month within the Article 50 deadline is that the market rates the chances of a deal this week as being less likely.

What we should read into that is hard to say. The EU has a long history of things going right to the wire and there must be just a possibility that something can be agreed. This has been going on for so long that many leaders just want it over.

Clearly Johnson has made concessions and that creates its own risks. You can see Nigel Farage attacking whatever comes out as being BINO – Brexit in Name Only.

The Independent is reporting that no agreement is possible before this week’s summit. Its report notes:

Spanish foreign minister Josep Borrell, who is set to take over as the EU’s foreign affairs chief, meanwhile told reporters outside a meeting in Luxembourg that there might be a need to “stop the watch” and ask for more time.

“You know, in Europe, we always take decisions on the edge of the precipice, on the edge of the cliff,” he said. “Even when the last minute comes, then we stop the watch and say that we need technically more time to fulfil all the requirements, all the last minute requirements.

From the PM’s perspective he has to ensure that his “do or die” pledge to leave the EU on October 31 doesn’t damage him or his party if it proves not to be possible. Whether or not he was being foolhardy in using that rhetoric it certainly added to the sense of urgency which might give a benefit.

Domestically the real danger to the Brexiteers is the growing clamour for a confirmatory referendum which we’ve discussed in previous threads.

Mike Smithson


At the end of the tunnel

Friday, October 11th, 2019

One of the many quirks of Brexit is that things look brightest when we’re in a tunnel. The announcement on Friday that the government’s latest proposals had gone into private intensive discussions caused market sentiment to soar, as well as the hopes of many political observers.

What does it all mean?  Well, since everyone is being uncharacteristically tight-lipped, it’s impossible to tell really. That hasn’t stopped endless speculation.

We can, however, set out the parameters. The last time that Parliament considered a deal was the third Meaningful Vote. It was defeated by 58. If Boris Johnson is to get a deal that will pass Parliament, he will have to do better (and, indeed, not lose any existing supporters). To be precise, he needs a net 29 to change sides in his favour.

Here is the current state of play in Parliament:

Conservative 288

Labour 245

SNP 35

Independents 35

Lib Dems 19

DUP 10

Sinn Fein 7

Independent Group for Change 5

Plaid Cymru 4

Green 1

Speaker 1

Who does he have to persuade? 34 Conservatives voted against it. Five of those are no longer Conservatives and look no more amenable than they did before. A sixth Remainer, Jo Johnson, might give his brother a sympathy shag, but that looks doubtful too. The other 28 are all militant Leavers. It has been suggested that Boris Johnson could now rely on the power of preferment to get more of them onside, but in fact only three of the hardcore Leavers, Priti Patel, Theresa Villiers and James Duddridge, are ministers. 

So there are 25 more MPs who can afford to remain true to their principles without cost if they are so inclined. This idea that the hardcore rebels are magically more biddable is not resting on patronage.

Whether they are so inclined will depend in considerable part on the reaction of the DUP. Their 10 MPs opposed the last deal on every occasion. Sammy Wilson has already fired warning shots.

The Lib Dems can be expected to show testicular fortitude opposing whatever deal Boris Johnson might come up with. So can the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the bulk of the Labour party. Just five Labour MPs voted for the deal last time around and only one of the independents last time who voted against (John Woodcock) looks even potentially persuadable. 

19 Labour MPs, however, wrote to the European Commission beseeching them to look for a deal. Boris Johnson will hope to pick up their votes and perhaps some more Labour MPs as well (Lisa Nandy has estimated 40 Labour MPs are working towards a cross-party deal).  They may, however, insist on extracting a price.

The movement may not all be one way. At least one Conservative MP has repented of his support of the last meaningful vote and others may follow if they regard the revised deal as selling out Northern Ireland. Lady Sylvia Hermon – who is after all a unionist, albeit an unusual one – may find it difficult to support a deal if it treats Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK.

All of this means that the numbers look challenging, but not necessarily impossible.  Much will depend on the deal actually struck, the willingness of the Spartans to accept a figleaf if offered and the newfound desperation of some Labour MPs to accept a deal.

Oh, and all this assumes that a deal is found in the first place. Still, let’s keep that faint candle flickering for now.

Alastair Meeks