THE RETURN of MPs to Westminster this week might hardly have been extra dramatic. Boris Johnson began on September third with a working majority of 1 and a coverage of leaving the European Union on the finish of October it doesn’t matter what. By day’s finish he had misplaced a primary Commons vote in opposition to his Brexit plans by the surprisingly massive margin of 27. And after the ostentatious defection of Phillip Lee, who crossed the ground to affix the Liberal Democrat benches at the same time as Mr Johnson was talking, a insurrection by 21 different Tories had lowered his notional majority from plus one to minus 43.
MPs’ vote to take management of the agenda was however a primary step. A day later they voted via all its Commons phases the so-called Benn-Burt invoice in search of to cease Britain leaving the EU with out a deal. The invoice supplies that, if the prime minister has not carried out a take care of the EU by October 19th, he should search an extension of the October 31st deadline, initially to January 31st 2020. As we went to press it was transferring to the Lords, the place the federal government gave the impression to be keen to let it cross. Most observers now count on Benn-Burt to turn out to be legislation by early subsequent week.
Mr Johnson and his advisers have proven little really feel for tips on how to deal with the Commons. The prime minister barely even tried to reply questions from Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour chief, and different MPs about his Brexit technique. As an alternative he blustered that what he dubbed “Corbyn’s give up invoice” would undercut his negotiating place, making it inconceivable to win concessions in Brussels. This declare was disbelieved by opponents, together with many Tories, who say no negotiations are taking place, partly as a result of Mr Johnson has made no clear proposals to exchange the backstop to avert a tough border in Eire.
If the tactic of threatening no-deal to lever concessions out of the EU has failed, so have makes an attempt to bully MPs. Mr Johnson’s high-handed suspension of Parliament from September ninth for nearly 5 weeks was adopted by threats to reimpose self-discipline misplaced below Theresa Might by deselecting Tory MPs who defied the whip (which Mr Johnson himself did twice earlier this 12 months). But the impact was simply to strengthen the rebels. In April Mrs Might misplaced an earlier model of the Benn-Burt invoice by only one vote, in contrast with Mr Johnson’s 27.
Mr Johnson responded to his defeat with attribute belligerence. Though he conceded that he was sure to watch the legislation, he additionally stated there have been no circumstances wherein he would ask for an extension of the October 31st deadline. The answer, he steered, was to carry an election earlier than then, to let the individuals resolve who ought to be negotiating with the EU. He let it’s recognized that October 15th was his most well-liked date.
His downside is that, below the Mounted-term Parliaments Act (FTPA) of 2011, prime ministers can now not name an election when they need. Doing so wants a two-thirds majority of MPs, so Mr Johnson requires Labour assist. Though Mr Corbyn has lengthy referred to as for an election, he now insists the Benn-Burt invoice to cease no-deal should turn out to be legislation first. Late on September 4th, a movement by Mr Johnson calling for an election duly failed as a result of it handed with too small a majority. There are methods around the FTPA, nevertheless. A one-sentence movement calling for an election regardless of the act may get a easy majority. Or Mr Johnson might engineer defeat by way of a vote of no confidence. Together with his majority shot, an election appears to be coming. Can he win it?
Right here Mr Johnson is bullish. The most recent polls give the Tories a ten-point lead over Labour. But elections go fallacious, as Mrs Might discovered when squandering a good greater lead in 2017. With out a pact with Nigel Farage’s Brexit Occasion, which can be arduous to agree, it might take Tory votes. The Tories could lose seats in Scotland, London and the south. To win a majority, they have to make massive positive factors within the midlands and north. These areas have many pro-Brexit voters, however they’re by intuition anti-Tory. An election might be tougher for Mr Johnson to win than a few of his advisers suppose. ■