No dealers beware, Parliament will not have you as Prime Minister

Boris Johnson. Picture by Annika Haas (CC BY 2.0)

Jonathan Edwards, Plaid Cymru MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

“Please, do not waste this time” so said the European Council President, Donald Tusk, when the latest Brexit extension was agreed. For that to be interpreted as a signal to start a Conservative beauty pageant for the top job is as ridiculous as it is dangerous.

Dangerous not only because it leaves us leaderless whilst hurtling towards the October 31st deadline; but dangerous because of the irresistible pull of talking up a No Deal in the Tory leadership election will likely be too strong to resist for the candidates.

In other words, we are likely to end up with a Prime Minister in favour of No Deal, for the simple fact that backing this form of Brexit is the most sure-fire way to win the Tory leadership contest.

The sequence of events this precipitates will define our politics for generations.

With the keys to No 10 in the hands of a ‘no dealer’, most likely Boris Johnson (above), an urgent no-confidence motion will be sought. MPs from almost every party – including many on the Conservative benches – have said that they would back any measure to stop a Prime Minister who was unilaterally taking us out of the EU on No Deal basis.

It is likely, therefore, that a block of Conservative MPs, joining with opposition parties, will vote down a Prime Minister committed to No Deal before he or she even moves into Downing Street. We would have a Prime Ministership that was dead on arrival.

Under the rules set out in the Fixed Term Parliament Act, a successful no confidence motion would then lead to a 14-day period in which a new government could be formed.

In those 14 days I believe there is an opportunity to re-shape Parliament. A chance to create a pro-People’s Vote majority with a single purpose – to deliver the legislation for a fresh referendum.

Already Members from across all-parties represented in Parliament (bar the DUP) work together with this one aim in mind. It doesn’t take a great leap of faith to see us take the next step.

Poisoned

That, admittedly fragile, rainbow-coalition of MPs from all parties would not need to last long and would have a single unifying purpose – a People’s Vote.

With the legislation passed through Parliament as quickly as is reasonable, it is feasible that a referendum could be held within the current extension and a clear approach to Brexit – mandated by the people – is wrapped up before the end of October.

We could then move on to a General Election to form a Parliament and government for the long-haul.

This sequence is the only logical process which can be followed that would allow enough time and space for a People’s Vote to be delivered without a significant further extension.

A Parliament elected after a People’s Vote would be significantly less poisoned by Brexit than one elected prior to knowing our end-destination when it comes to Europe.

The most optimistic reading of Labour’s Brexit policy would mean an inversion of this sequence – a General Election followed by a referendum. This is neither credible nor, for the Labour party that is, desirable. As we have seen in the EU Parliament elections just a couple of weeks ago, in an election where the spectre of Brexit still looms large, Labour face electoral oblivion. So do the Tories for that matter.

By putting a People’s Vote before another election, we create the space for debate on the much-neglected domestic agenda – the things that matter to people day-in-day-out and the normal work of government.

Far from denying Labour their much-desired election, this sequence creates circumstances that will likely benefit them, they just have to wait a few more months.

Parliament will simply not accept a No Deal Prime Minister. The candidates for the Conservative leadership must wise-up to this fact. A short-termist strategy of winning their internal election on the promise of a No Deal Brexit will kill stone dead any chance of a long-term stay in Number 10.

By putting a People’s Vote before any snap election, we can settle Brexit and create a sustainable, re-focused parliament that gets on with the day job.

This article was first published in The Sunday Times on Sunday 9 June.


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