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Ponsonby: What happens now the opposition has control?

Your questions answered on Brexit after Boris Johnson lost his first Commons vote as PM.

Boris Johnson lost his first commons vote as PM. <strong>HOC</strong>
Boris Johnson lost his first commons vote as PM. HOC

Opposition and rebel Conservative MPs have voted to seize control of Commons business in a bid to block a no-deal Brexit, in a blow for Boris Johnson.

The government was defeated by 328 votes to 301 in a motion to allow MPs to take control of the parliamentary agenda on Wednesday.

Our special correspondent Bernard Ponsonby outlines what might happen next.

The opposition, assisted by rebel Conservative MPs have taken control of the parliamentary agenda and will now try to pass a bill opposing a no-deal Brexit and asking the EU to delay the UKs exit until January 31. That bill will be debated today, will probably go to the Lords tomorrow with Royal Assent being given next Monday.

Boris Johnson wants a General Election and believes that opposition politicians will ultimately back one, which Westminster sources indicate could come on October 15, just two days before a vital EU summit in Brussels. Two-thirds of MPs have to back a call for an election under the terms of the Fixed Term Parliament Act.

Not necessarily. The voting public, like MPs, are split on what to do next. If the polarised nature of the electorate is replicated in the new parliamentary arithmetic after an election, it is perfectly possible that the logjam will continue.

Uncertainty as to the outcome and the possibility that a poor result could finish his leadership. In order not to be outflanked by the Brexit Party, the Conservatives are probably going to have to commit to a no-deal exit. They may say they want a negotiated exit but in reality the timetable would make agreeing a new exit between October 15-31 virtually impossible. The practical campaigning position of the Tories will be for no deal. Nigel Farage has said that he could envisage a non-aggression pact with the Tories if they pledge to implement withdrawal on October 31.

The Labour leader has been calling for a General Election for several years. He hopes to raise his ‘fairness’ agenda in any election but the hard politics here mean that this looks like being another EU referendum by proxy. Assuming the Conservatives campaign in effect for no deal, what does Labour do? The Liberal Democrats, Greens and SNP will argue to reverse Brexit. If Labour’s position continues to be somewhere in between these polar opposites they risk being squeezed by an electorate most of whom come down decisively one way or the other. Labour has the most thinking to do about its manifesto pledge.

This in a sense is easy for them. They will oppose Brexit and pledge to do everything to reverse it. Both parties are united on this and both expect an ‘electoral dividend’ as passionate remainers who might not normally vote for these parties giving their support on this occasion.

Yes. The SNP pitch will be ‘vote for us to oppose Brexit and back another poll on independence’. Since the EU vote in 2016 the First Minister has been cautious on IndyRef2, knowing that in politics timing and circumstance is everything. The judgement is that the chaos at Westminster is symptomatic of a broken system which will only be fixed with independence.

That all depends on the outcome. If the SNP seek an unambiguous mandate for a new poll and their vote and seats go up, it will be difficult for Westminster to say ‘no’. Constitutionally speaking they can continue to say no but in practical political terms such a stance would open a new crisis on another front. If the reverse happens and support for the SNP falls dramatically, any UK Prime Minister will argue a party which is going in reverse has no mandate to pursue a new referendum.

Probably. The Brexit Party factor throws a monumental spanner in the works. They have been disastrous for the Conservatives in particular. However, Nigel Farage might decide to target Labour seats if the Tories back no-deal in the election as the best way to deliver a parliament that definitely backs no deal. Traditional party loyalties might be under strain and local factors could further complicate matters. Pity Sir John Curtice who will have to agree on what the exit poll predicts after what is likely to be an unpredictable campaign.

If Brexit takes place it will lead to a fundamental reappraisal of the UK’s relationship with the EU. A hard border in Ireland and an all-conquering SNP in Scotland will put stresses on the Union as never before. The recent arguments about parliamentary stalemate and proroguing parliament will kickstart a debate on whether the UK needs a written constitution.


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