I have explained in an earlier post that the only way around the Referendum result is to have a General Election that offers a renewed mandate to Remain. This can trump the Referendum, which in any event is of no legal consequence. The political weight of course is something else, but an election could be sold to the Leavers, if done carefully.
How can an early election happen?
The Fixed-Term Parliaments Act prevents early elections unless a motion for an early general election is agreed either by at least two-thirds of the whole Parliament or without division; or a motion of no confidence is passed and no alternative government is confirmed by the Commons within 14 days.
Is it possible that the leadership of the Conservative Party seeks an election?
I do not think so, as the only reason for a early General Election would be to prevent Brexit, and the Tories seem to have made their peace with it. It is difficult to see how the establishment can benefit from it though. This seems to be a lose-lose situation whichever way you see it. See the following diagram.
What this shows is that there is no possible resolution to the Article 50 negotiations that pleases British voters and the other 27 European countries — without tanking the UK economy: Quantian‘s chart points out that there are basically three possible ways the negotiations could turn out — and each has major flaws.
1) “Clean break”: In this scenario, the UK just leaves the EU without negotiating any sort of alternative arrangements in place. This option could be disruptive for many EU citizens and businesses, but EU leaders wouldn’t have any way to stop it. And Brexit supporters in the UK would find it acceptable.
The problem: Just quitting would trigger a severe recession in the UK, as the British economy depends on free access to the European common market. Forty-four percent of British exports go to the EU, and the UK financial sector depends on free movement of capital between Britain and Europe. No British leader would knowingly crash the UK economy, so they won’t agree to a “clean break.” (There is a chance one could be forced into it, however. If Britain triggers Article 50, a clean break automatically happens in two years absent an exit deal between the UK and EU.)
2) “EEA + deal”: In this scenario, the UK negotiates a deal with the EU, which would allow it to remain in the EEA but would exempt it from other EU rules — most notably, free migration rules — that Brexit supporters hate.
The problem: EU leaders seem unlikely to agree to this. They don’t want to reward Britain’s vote with favorable exit terms, for fear that voters in other countries (like Greece, France, or the Netherlands) will take this as a sign that they could get a similar deal. So while this solution would work for British voters and leaders, it’s unacceptable to European leaders.
3) “Annul vote”: In this scenario, British leaders call backsies on the referendum results and simply refuse to ever submit Article 50 notification. This would prevent the UK leadership from owning the disastrous economic consequences of Brexit, and European leaders would celebrate it as a step away from the brink.
The problem: “Leave” supporters in the UK would feel betrayed and very, very angry — and even some “Remain” supporters might see it as undemocratic. The political backlash against a UK prime minister who calls “Bracksies” could be immense.
So every option available to the UK leadership right now is either politically unviable or economically disastrous. Nobody in British politics has a good answer to this dilemma, which partially explains why Brexit hasn’t happened yet
But, where do the parties actually stand? It is no good us imagining a General Election as an escape hatch, if no one opens it for us.
The Liberal Democrats seem to wish to use the Election as a way to prevent Brexit.
“I think it is right that in a general election we say to the British people that if you want to get out of the increasing economic mess that we find ourselves in, where we have lost control, [where] we are at the mercy of markets, people’s jobs are going, people’s livelihoods are being destroyed and we are not taking back control … And the fact that the key tenets of the leave campaign are now proved to be lies … it would prove legitimate for the Liberal Democrats to go into the next election and say we offer you a chance to reconsider,” he said.
To the suggestion that this was undemocratic, he replied: “On that basis we would never have re-run the 1975 referendum”, when the UK voted to remain in what was then the European Economic Community. With the Labour party imploding and the Tories at war, Farron is also looking to a realignment of progressive forces in British politics.
The SNP is against Brexit, but seems disinterested in UK wide politics, or saving the country beyond Scotland.
Nicola Sturgeon claimed (post results) in a press conference at Bute House, her official residence in Edinburgh, where she was flanked by the Saltire and the EU flag, that it was “democratically unacceptable” for Scotland to be taken out of the EU against its will. Every part of the country voted to remain, and she said her government would now begin preparing legislation to enable another independence vote if the Scottish Parliament decided it was appropriate.
The Greens want a progressive alliance, but not cleanly against Brexit, which is rather disappointing.
Britain is in crisis and people are scared about the future. Never have we had a greater need for calm leadership to be shown by politicians. We have a UK Government in chaos, an economy facing a crisis and people up and down the country facing serious hardship. There is an urgent need to make a stand against any austerity and the slashing of environmental legislation, human and workers’ rights, that may come with Brexit.
With the growing likelihood of an early General Election, the importance of progressive parties working together to prevent the formation of a Tory-UKIP-DUP government that would seek to enact an ultra-right Brexit scenario is ever more pressing.
Irish Republicans aren’t much help either both because they do not take their seats at Westminster and because they don’t care about Union wide politics.
Martin McGuinness has said that Sinn Féin will veto Brexit if the party can find a legal method to do so. He said that Sinn Féin is looking at the legal options available.
“Yes, we are looking at it at the moment, and our legal advisors are also looking at it also in the context of the implications for the Good Friday Agreement,” he said.”And you can be absolutely sure – if there’s a way to veto it, we in Sinn Féin will veto it.”
Labour is the big unknown. A successful coup against Corbyn, or a split of the party might create a strong constituency against Brexit, but there is no clear sign of this at the moment. There are precious few that support some reaction.
Labour MP David Lammy has called on Parliament to “stop this madness” and to vote against the referendum decision to leave the EU. In a statement on his Twitter feed, the MP for Tottenham and former Higher Education and Skills Minister said: “Wake up. We do not have to do this.
“We can stop this madness and bring this nightmare to an end through a vote in Parliament. Our sovereign Parliament needs to now vote on whether we should exit the EU”. “The referendum was was an advisory, non-binding referendum. The Leave campaign’s platform has already unravelled and some people wish they hadn’t voted to Leave”. “Parliament now needs to decide whether we should go forward with Brexit, and there should be a vote in Parliament next week. Let us not destroy our economy on the basis of lies and the hubris of Boris Johnson.”
Could we expect something from within the Conservatives themselves? I do not think so, there are even fewer of them with any desire to resist.
Ken Clarke (one of few high profile Europhiles in the party) called on MPs to ignore the EU referendum result and follow their own judgement. The former Chancellor said the vote was not legally binding and MPs shouldn’t have to follow it, despite a majority voting to Leave.
Lets look at the numbers:
|Scottish National Party||54|
|Democratic Unionist Party||8|
|Social Democratic & Labour Party||3|
|Ulster Unionist Party||2|
|UK Independence Party||1|
|Total number of seats||650|
|Working Government Majority||16|
Two thirds of the Parliament are 435 MPs. Even if Labour, the SNP, the LibDems and the Greens joined forces, it still would not be enough to trigger an election (293 MPs).
For the government to lose its majority, it would take a revolt of about 20 of its own MPs, presuming that the DUP and UKIP would side with a Brexit pursuing government.
Therefore an election cannot happen without the Conservative government wanting one.
The sad result of this analysis is that even though its crazy, Brexit is really happening, and there isn’t much we can do about it. I figure the only way to prevent it now is a serious economic catastrophe which brings the Conservatives back form the brink and convinces the country’s elite that a way out needs to be found. And why am I so insistent in arguing that Brexit cannot morph into an EEA deal everyone can live with? That’s because I saw the Venn diagram above.
I fear that Theresa May (due to take over from Cameron) wants Brexit and the party (with a core of hard-liner supporters in business) wants a stab at implementing Thatcher’s craziest fantasies. Welcome to post-Brexit dystopia.