ANDREW ADONIS: Remain alliance has arrived just in time
PUBLISHED: 11:29 29 August 2019 | UPDATED: 08:16 30 August 2019
Just as Boris Johnson moves to suspend parliament, Labour is firmly behind the Remain cause, says ANDREW ADONIS.
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Thank God! Just as Johnson makes his bold move and seeks to suspend parliament, Labour is now firmly behind the Remain cause and, leading an alliance, is acting boldly to stop him.
This week's Church House Declaration marks the foundation of the Remain alliance. It is a profound resistance to those who would undermine democracy by suspending parliament. How fitting, in the place where parliament met in 1940 and 1941, when it was last prevented from assembling as usual.
In its membership and MPs, Labour was always Remain. Now the leadership is following suit. Jeremy Corbyn's agreement with other party leaders on joint action is critical not just to our European destiny but to parliamentary democracy itself.
Parliament's cause today is the same as in the Bill of Rights 1688: "Whereas King James II did endeavour to subvert and extirpate the Lawes and Liberties of this Kingdome by Assumeing and Exerciseing a Power of Suspending of Lawes without Consent of Parlyament..."
It feels at that level of events. Churchill wrote of "the white hot weeks" of summer 1940. It is white hot in Westminster this summer too. The threat we face is not as horrific and existential as 1940, but it is serious nonetheless.
It is also entirely self-inflicted. In the brilliant words of the Independent's journalist Tom Peck, Johnson is "the needless man of the pointless hour". It is a "tragic Churchill tribute act. There was no darkest hour waiting for him, so he switched off the lights himself". All for the purpose of projecting himself into power without principle. "He has imperilled his nation for no greater reason than to seek to augment his own personal place within it."
When parliament meets next week, in the final days before Johnson tries to close it down, its critical business will be legislation to make no-deal illegal and require the government to apply for a further extension of Article 50 to avoid a crash-out at the end of October. Assuming this statute is enacted, Johnson will be breaking the law if he does not do as required.
What next? A successful motion of no confidence next week or the week after is possible if it is clear that Johnson is intending to disobey the law and still seek no-deal at the end of October. That would probably lead to an emergency government which would immediately call and hold either a referendum or an election, extending Article 50 as necessary.
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Assuming Johnson does not disobey the law then, despite all his bluster and shenanigans, he himself only has the same options: a second referendum in three years or a third general election in four years.
A general election called next week or the week after could still be held before the end of October. One called later would straddle the end of the current Article 50 deadline. For that reason I think Johnson, if he goes down the election route, is likely to go immediately.
One can't discount the possibility that Johnson might win an election outright with a pro-hard-Brexit majority. But for that to happen, everything needs to go wrong for Remain, and he probably needs an electoral pact with Nigel Farage too.
Provided the Remain alliance holds, there will be massive tactical voting to keep Johnson out. If there is a single Farage-Johnson ticket, the Tories will be so toxic that pressure for second and third place pro-European candidates to stand down will become intense.
As I remind my Labour friends, Labour only got into parliament in serious numbers in 1906 and 1910 thanks to an electoral pact with the Liberals, ensuring a single anti-Tory candidate in most constituencies. If this was good enough for Keir Hardie, it's good enough for me.
In practice a Johnson-Farage pact will be hard to accomplish. They both want the crown. Farage's floating of a 'non-aggression pact' this week led to the only half amusing riposte: which of them is Stalin and which Hitler?
There is also the question of the Tory anti-no-dealers and Remainers. Are they all - Philip Hammond, David Gauke, Greg Clark, Rory Stewart, Dominic Grieve, and about 30 others - going to be deselected? The lot? That would be without precedent in the annals of party authoritarianism, and would produce a backlash. How about if they all then stood as 'Remain alliance' candidates without Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green opponents in their constituencies? What an interesting idea.
So if there is an election, the most likely outcome is that, either under Remain Corbyn or Houdini Johnson, it is simply the prelude to a second referendum next spring.
This raises the obvious question: why not go straight to a referendum? Indeed would it not be better for Johnson himself to accept defeat on the holding of a referendum - perhaps as part of next week's 'end to no-deal' legislation - and bluff and bluster his way to accepting it and taking his no-deal to the British people?
I suspect that idea has occurred to Johnson in his bath. As even he knows, Houdini tried to escape once too often.
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