25 Jun 2019

Brexit: Johnson, no deal and shadow cabinet

Boris Johnson says even if parliament voted against no deal it would be up to him, as PM, to decide if he ever requested the extension of EU membership needed to give it effect.

When Tory rebels were plotting last month to book a day in parliament to stop no deal they planned to use the same vote to instruct whoever was Prime Minister to seek an extension of UK membership. 

Dominic Grieve warned parliament it might well not get another opportunity to wedge its foot in the door (though that hasn’t stopped the usual suspects working hard still to achieve just that by other means).

The point is if parliament has found a way to express its will,

– opposing a no-deal Brexit – there’s a decent chance it can make its opinion known on whether an extension should be sought. Of course, whether the EU wants to allow such an extension to a truculent UK executive is another matter.

The appointment of Iain Duncan Smith as “Chairman” of the Boris Johnson campaign has come as quite a shock to people who thought they were at the top of that operation. There are suggestions that it is an honorific to keep the former leader and his like-minded friends inside and outside parliament reassured there will be no slippage on Brexit promises, something some of them are on constant watch for.

The suggestion is that the second stage of the campaign is pretty well mapped out. The parliamentary stage is finished. The work on preparations for government may be getting underway with Mr Johnson’s former chief aide from City Hall days, Ed Lister, just started on meetings on strategy.

The Johnson team faces the delivery team challenge of getting the giant Brexit sofa through the narrow parliamentary door. Figures in the Johnson team think a vote of no confidence in parliament is not likely to hit them straight after their man goes into No. 10. The last attempt at one in January didn’t work out and since then the number of independent MPs (if you include Change UK MPs) has risen to 22. Many of them will be nervous of an early election. Though one seasoned Tory anti-Brexit plotter says if you hold the anti-no deal vote first those same MPs may be led by the logic of their position to vote for no confidence soon after that.

Elsewhere in the Brexit jungle, it sounds like there was quite a rocky shadow cabinet meeting earlier. At one point, Ian Lavery objected to Diane Abbott interrupting him. Mr Lavery sounded in one intervention as if he might be attacking Keir Starmer’s integrity but didn’t quite go there.

John McDonnell was disappointed this was not proving to be the decisive shadow cabinet at which the party could embrace a Remain identity. He’d trailed it as such in public yesterday. Jeremy Corbyn outlined he was at the start of a two week consultation with the trade unions so this couldn’t be the decisive moment. In a far cry from the relationship of not so long ago, John McDonnell then tried to nail his leader down to a decision in the near future saying that meant the shadow cabinet on 9th July is “decision day.”

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