The strategy to stop a no-deal Brexit changed today – here’s how and why | Politics News

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It was, according to a source, “much better than expected”.

Then again, that’s not saying much.


One of the themes of the political summer has been the mercury rising, not outside, but among the forces of Remain.

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Even in recent days Jo Swinson has branded the Labour leader a closet Brexiteer

Bitter conflict over potential governments of national unity, who should lead it, when and how it should come about and the rest.

Even in recent days we’ve seen Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson brand Labour counterpart Jeremy Corbyn a closet Brexiteer… so often it has seemed as if the main Remain forces have been scrambling to ensure their rivals are in receipt of Remainers’ blame after no-deal, rather than seriously trying to find ways to avoid it.

That, however briefly, stopped today.

We saw the Labour leader invite his fellow opposition leaders into his parlour, not to lecture but effectively to concede that what he has sought, a motion of no-confidence, is not the priority.

Instead “legislative solutions”, an attempt to bind the government by law to abandon no-deal, will be focused on by all the opposition parties.

Why the change of approach?

There had been a widespread assumption that Labour would table a motion of no-confidence at their first opportunity in the first few weeks of September.

That is far less certain now.

The numbers were already extremely dicey but Angela Merkel’s intervention, where she appeared to give the prime minister 30 days to devise a solution to the Irish backstop quagmire, has given Boris Johnson some time.

It has allowed him a little (much-needed) cover, to say that his own MPs need not bring down his government while there’s still a chance of his securing an orderly exit.

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn (2R) sits with members of his shadow cabinet (L-R) shadow Chief Whip Nick Brown, shadoe Brexit minister Keir Starmer, shadow Leader of the House of Commons Valerie Vaz, and shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, as they pose for a photograph while preparing to meet with leaders of Britain's other political parties to discuss options for Brexit, in Portcullis House, central London on August 27, 2019. - Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will on Tuesday
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Jeremy Corbyn sat down with members of his shadow cabinet

In all things Brexit, if MPs can defer difficult decisions, they will – it is but the only constant of the process.

Given that and the tepid support for his candidacy as a caretaker prime minister from other opposition parties, Corbyn’s team have decided to be seen to support legislative solutions to avoid no-deal.

This will necessitate that the Opposition takes control of the order paper (the agenda of the Commons, if you like).

This is not easy to accomplish but I’m told these efforts will centre on two key dates, one on 9 September, where the government has to present a statement on the political situation in Northern Ireland and/or an attempt to appeal to the Speaker under something called “Standing Order [SO] 24”, to grant a sort of emergency debate.

Either of these could present backbench MPs with an opportunity to seize control and begin the difficult process of drafting legislation to forbid a no-deal Brexit.

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Labour calculates that either way, this could help provide a route to deliver what they really want – an election.

If the legislative process to interdict no-deal succeeds then Boris Johnson will come under tremendous pressure to go to the country to see off the current House of Commons.

If they fail and all other options are exhausted, the possibility of a motion of no-confidence will remain the one bullet left to fire – which might lead to an election anyway.

You got the sense today, with Nigel Farage talking about electoral pacts with the government and the smorgasbord of opposition leaders amassing, of two competing armies, readying for battle.

On one hand, two Brexiteer parties passionately arguing that the rest are trying to undo a referendum result.

On the other, a larger but more disparate group indignant and terrified of a government willing to potentially even suspend parliament itself to achieve its end.

In other words, either side represents the true fault line of what’s divided British politics since 2016 or certainly since the 2017 general election: direct democracy (the referendum) vs representative democracy (parliament).

Both sides believe the other is trying to subvert their vision of how democracy ought to work.

The funny thing is, more or less, they’re both right.

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