Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Massive Defeat - What Next?

I did think the defeat of the government could be upwards of two hundred, and sensed that far from the whips shaving off opposition that opinions were hardening. Thus the strategy of Theresa May in delaying the vote completely backfired. She lost by the meaningful vote 230. Not many more Tories than the payroll vote supported the deal.

It is dead, but much else is unclear. A House of Commons Liaison Committee may try to direct traffic towards, initially, indicative votes for how to leave the European Union, but it is clear that the Cabinet is going to do this anyway. There is no way now that Theresa May will be given the freedom to try and do what she wants; leading members of the Cabinet will be getting a grip with a new consensus seeking direction to policy.

The scale of the defeat gave Jeremy Corbyn no choice but to go for a vote of no confidence, and he is likely to lose this. There may be a few wild Tories to vote 'no confidence', but there are enough to stop this in possibly one of the last acts of the Tory tribe coming together. This means that Corbyn is bypassed: the option of a second referendum may still not be his policy despite party conference policy.
So the government can limp on, and another proposal that won't pass without Labour support is a second referendum. Neither of these being enacted, the European Union 27 States by unanimity will not be able to have grounds to extend Article 50.

A second referendum is a dangerous strategy. It will be divisive, the proposers will again lose control of it like they did in 2016 (it became an expression of anti-austerity and looked to kick the government), and of course it could still result in a no deal exit. Such a referendum may happen, but only if Labour back it, and many MPs will not.

No referendum creates two tough choices. One is to leave with no deal on the 29th March later this year. The House of Commons can always produce a majority to stop this, and the Cabinet can also stop this, given the balance of opinion. But the only way to stop this is to revoke Article 50.
Even if there is a referendum, it does not follow that the EU 27 will approve unanimously an extension to Article 50. So it may still need to be revoked, which the UK government can do: the Cabinet can do it as an executive act of governing. However, done as the only viable means to prevent a no-deal, it should get a majority in the House of Commons - if it goes to a vote.

Expect Cabinet resignations, but also possibly expect across the House of Commons appointments into it. This will destroy the political parties as they are, but the predicament demands that incredibly difficult yet necessary decision. They will sell it to give the UK time to think. The Attorney General says we can only revoke if it is to stop it altogether, but (as Kenneth Clarke asked) does this mean for all time? Of course not. To invoke it again is surely allowed once. This is how they will sell it.
However, as soon as it is done the government and legislature will breathe a sigh of relief. There may well be public disorder, but it is public disorder versus serious economic disorder and self-harm when there is no agreement what to do to leave. Politics will be allowed to form what to do to leave, but the government has so many other pressing needs.

I keep to my prediction: a cabinet coup involving Amber Rudd, supported principally by Philip Hammond and Greg Clark; expect many resignations and the sidelining at least of Theresa May herself. There is nothing in the British Constitution that says a party leader must be Prime Minister, instead such a person must command the Commons, and on the basis of preventing a no deal European Union exist, one of these people can command the Commons.

Furthermore, if the Cabinet does not go in a cross-party direction, the result of a new government direction yet within the Tories alone will result in Tory exiter zealots voting in a later vote of no confidence against such a government. Only cross party support and even inclusion into government will allow such a Cabinet as a shifted government to survive and implement the revoking of Article 50.

They must act on it before economic disaster strikes. They need to prepare now on how to explain the revoking of Article 50: the bad referendum campaigns, the lack of agreed interpretation as to what it meant, and the need to avoid disaster. The political system is being stress-tested indeed.

The principal person to blame here is David Cameron, who thought he could gamble the country to save his political party, and secondly Theresa May for behaving equally in a party manner and taking on a bunker mentality after her own failure in calling a General Election. She failed on that and she failed on delaying the meaningful vote. She paid a hefty price on both occasions.

There'll be the simple choice looming, and starkly presenting itself: either go over the cliff edge or revoke Article 50. As the tension rises the Cabinet must get a grip, and the prediction I made a long time back was that it will do just this. The Tory Party is at its 1846 moment, and the Labour leadership is about to be bypassed. Once Article 50 is revoked, it is likely that a General Election will follow, but the political parties may be well divided. The Cabinet might well introduce proportional representation before it goes, simply because 4 political parties (or near enough) out of two is chaotic in First Past the Post, and so a more consensual legislature will be necessary.

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