Boris Johnson’s mission impossible

by Nick Kent | 03.09.2019

Boris Johnson’s most fanatical supporters think he can purge his party of Remain supporters, call a general election, defeat Jeremy Corbyn in that election and force the EU to give him a better deal.  All by Halloween. He’ll not find it quite so easy.

Taking away the whip from a Tory MP who votes against his or her government is standard procedure when the vote is said to be a vote of confidence.  Under party rules [Schedule 1, 1.2] once a Conservative MP loses the whip in Parliament they lose their membership and so cease to be eligible to be a candidate for the party at the following election. All very simple it would seem.

But it isn’t because of an incident when a furious Michael Howard, then leader, stripped the MP for Arundel, Howard Flight, of the whip at the start of the 2005 election for speaking out of turn, thus de-selecting Flight. The next leader, David Cameron, promised not to behave like that and the party rules now contain another provision which says that removal of membership or office “will only be made after due consideration of natural justice” [Schedule 6, 28]. Even if Johnson ignores this rule and removes the whip anyway, it will leave the party open to legal challenge.  

Calling an election won’t be easy either. To do that, Johnson needs the support of two-thirds of MPs, and that means most of Corbyn’s Labour MPs. The Labour leader has told Johnson that he won’t agree to an election until the Bill to stop a no deal Brexit is law. That would force Johnson to start his election campaign going to the EU to ask for an extension to the deadline, something he has said he won’t do in any circumstances.

Then there is the small matter of winning that general election. As polling guru John Curtice points out today, the Tories may have an eight point lead over Labour but they are threatened by the strong positions of the Lib Dems and the SNP (as well as by the dramatic loss of their popular leader in Scotland) and the challenge on the right from Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.

And having beaten off his opponents in all those battles, Johnson just has to persuade the EU to dump Ireland, or he has to dump the DUP (and many Unionist-supporting Tories) and agree on a backstop that would create a sea border between the Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  Oh, and pass this into law by 31 October.

Just looking at this litany of challenges reveals the high stakes that Johnson is playing for.  His incredible gamble may work but it also may fall apart at any moment, leaving his career in ruins and Brexit still unresolved. You can see why Dominic Cummings has chosen a contract with the PM that runs out at 11pm on 31 October 2019.

This piece was updated shortly after publication to take account of Corbyn’s statement that he wouldn’t agree to an election until the Bill became law

Tags: , , Categories: Brexit, UK Politics

One Response to “Boris Johnson’s mission impossible”

  • Priti Patel lacks the gravitas of Barbara Bain, and Boris is more likely to be a target of the team, rather than a hero.

    But you never know…