No confidence vote in Johnson might not mean election

by Hugo Dixon | 25.06.2019

A “dozen or so” Tory MPs would vote to bring down a prime minister who tried to crash out of the EU without a deal, says the defence minister. Most people think that means there would then be an election. But there might instead be a referendum.

Tobias Ellwood’s comments on BBC’s Panorama programme yesterday were clearly intended as a shot across Boris Johnson’s bows. He has vowed to leave the EU on October 31 whether or not we have a deal, whereas his rival Jeremy Hunt has a more murky position.

Johnson may not ever enter Downing Street given his recent troubles. Even if he does, he may not carry out his threat to quit on October 31 come what may. But if he does, he will be heading for the abyss. After all, he rightly calls the miserable deal Theresa May has negotiated with the EU “dead” – and the EU won’t agree a different deal despite his bluster that they will.

If Johnson tries to crash out, MPs would have to stop him dead in his tracks. There may be several ways of doing so – for example, passing emergency legislation to force him to ask the EU for another delay to Brexit. But if all else fails, MPs can pass a vote of no confidence in him and kick him out of Downing Street.

Normally, if the leader of the governing party lost a vote of confidence, there would be an election. But these are not normal times. Under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, an election isn’t automatic. There are 14 days to see if anybody can command a vote of confidence in the House of Commons.

One possibility is that another Tory could take over. They would have to say they weren’t going to crash out. They would also need the informal support of some opposition MPs to make up for the hardline Tory Brexiters who would then be spitting blood and rebel. Since the whole point would be to avoid an election, the only real alternative would be to call a referendum and ask the people whether they still wanted to leave the EU.

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Another possibility is a national unity government, formally backed by some opposition MPs if not Jeremy Corbyn himself. It would again be hard to see what alternative it would have apart from calling a People’s Vote.

Yet another possibility would be that Johnson did a u-turn and said he would ask the people what they wanted in a referendum. He might then conceivably be able to command a majority in the Commons – although his authority would have been damaged by the no-confidence vote.

Only the last scenario would allow Johnson to hang onto power. Rather than risk losing it, he might be best advised to jump rather than being pushed – and take the initiative of calling a referendum himself. Assuming, that is, he gets into Downing Street in the first place.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

22 Responses to “No confidence vote in Johnson might not mean election”

  • A referendum is only the best possible option if it includes the option to remain. We know that Corbyn would never support that option in any referendum because he’s a leaver. So the referendum option may look great in theory but it will be very difficult in practice if not impossible to achieve a true referendum on all possible outcomes including remaining in the EU.

  • Martina: Corbyn would be more than fine to have “Exit2Brexit” on the referendum ballot, and please don’t spread disinformation about him further. The Corporate media do a ‘good’ enough job of that already. Corbyn is a democrat – he will offer the public what they want.

    Johnson is probably one of the very few Tories who could get a 2nd Ref through – while campaigning for leave.

    It is however most unlikely his fellow HardCore Brexshiteers will agree to this, knowing full well that despite the MKUltra tricks of the corporate media, and even with all the same ‘gerrymandering’ towards a pro-Leave result that happened last time, Leave is unlikely to win.

    Only “unlikely”, though.

    As the clever woman in the QT audience said last week, “We should have kept holding the referendum until we got a clear winner”. And no, Brexheds, 51% does NOT count as a “clear majority”.

    But if you got 60%, the argument’s over.

  • Whilst there are definitely rebels in the Conservatives who would be prepared to vote down a PM heading for a No Deal, these votes may well be cancelled out by Labour rebels, such as Caroline Flint and Gareth Snell, voting with the Government. As they did previously when voting to pave the way for a No Deal motion. They would no doubt incur the wrath of pro Europeans across the House, and in the country, but it’s difficult to judge where their loyalties lie.

  • ‘One possibility is that another Tory could take over – Only after another leadership election, surely?’ Not So: as I’m growing weary of pointing out, a Party Leader does not have to be Prime Minister – the PM is simply somebody who can satisfy the Head of State (i.e the Queen) that they can ‘form a government’ which can rely upon the support of a majority in Parliament (in practice a majority in the House of Commons). Boris Johnson, or for that matter Jeremy Corbyn, could yet be the elected Leader of his political party, yet not Prime Minister because he can’t rely upon the support of a majority of MPs.

  • It seems clear that a grouping is forming within the Labour Party which might well support the “May deal” if given another chance – if only to avoid “no deal”.
    Hardly any Labour MPs want no deal but a sizeable number do not want a people’s vote and are willing to see us leaving the EU. The large majority of Labour MPs voting down the May deal has always been somewhat illogical – the obsession with the Irish backstop is essentially a Tory thing and in any case most Northern Ireland citizens and almost all its business leaders are in favour of the backstop.
    If this were to happen it would dash the hopes for a people’s vote but there would be some wry amusement at Rory Stewart turning out to be right.

  • I am of the view that the only possible way of solving any impasse caused by a refusal of parliament to countenance a no deal Brexit is a general election. It would have to be fought almost entirely on the issue of leaving the EU and if a remain parliament was returned then people like me would have to accept we will not be leaving. Have any of the ardent 2nd referendum supporters on this site actually really considered how bad things will get if we are to have another vote. what would be the questions? who would be eligible to vote? who would actually accept the new result? The only result would be carnage!

  • Peter,
    The problem is its very unlikely that Leave voters will be happy in any eventuality. Think about it, a 9.3 hit in the economy, forecast by the same government that is pushing us towards a hard brexit will blow a hole in any chancellor of the exchequers tax income to the tune of about half of our current NHS budget. This will not result in tax giveaways, but more austerity measures. If people are upset about paying £150 for a TV licence they are going to furious about No deal when they see what it really means. Its because people think that Brexit is a land of milk and honey that is the problem, which you and I know it is not.

  • Tony,
    let’s be brutally honest, we are never going to agree on the economics. You focus purely on the possible short term hit because you are an EU fanatic. I focus on the medium to long term which I am totally confident will be to the betterment of this country because I am a proud Brit who totally believes in a true sovereign and independent democracy.
    All of this is beside the point when it comes to the actual politics. A 2nd referendum would be a disaster and the reason why people like yourself are so fixated on it is that you know the business and political class in this country will rig the vote to make sure a remain result is returned.

  • Peter,
    If I put your insults to one side of me being an EU fanatic, all I hear from your from you is wishful thinking, based on well, nothing really. As I have pointed out , its the Governments own opinion we will be screwed, but hey if it makes you feel better to keep blaming me and the EU for the economic forecasts then go ahead. Being a proud Brit achieves what exactly? Are you so confident in Brexit as to underwrite it yourself? If so you will need very deep pockets. Let me give you a few numbers; the Government reckons a No Deal Brexit and trading on WTO terms will result in weakening of GDP by 9.3% per annum over the next 15 years. With a GDP of 2.2 Trillion pounds that’s 200 Billion pounds less in the economy and around 70 Billion pounds less for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, year on year. These are the likely outcomes of Brexit. Its because people don’t sit down and work through the implications of what they are being told they continue to be blissfully unaware of what a car crash Brexit really is. The rich will make a fortune out of betting on which businesses will go bust and they will not lose any sleep over the poor who will pay. I know you don’t believe the forecasts but what is your basis to? If you have a better forecast please share it, because I am sure the Government would be grateful and Boris Johnson in particular.
    Believing it Britain doesn’t stop companies leaving for mainland Europe where the supply chains will be without the hassles. If people are angry about the state of the things they need to ask themselves why they were so willing to listen to Politicians who just filled their heads with wishful thinking.

  • Tony,
    You love to quote the worst case figures put out by civil servants within government who are most probably remainers. I and millions of others DO NOT TRUST THEM!
    At the end of the day, who knows you may be right but the 2016 referendum vote went the way of leave and we will have to live with any negative consequences. That’s how democracy works – get over it and move on!

  • Peter,
    They are the median projections, so not worst case. You don’t believe them on the basis ;
    1. The Government economists are probably remainers. For which you have zero evidence.The report was repressed until it was forced out of them so hardly something that it is Remain propaganda. What’s more they would have to be spectacularly wrong to less than our EU contribution.
    2. I and million of others don’t trust them. What exactly do you trust?
    3. So what if there are negative consequences? Maybe not everyone would who voted Leave would agree with you anymore. Certainly not the young people who didn’t get a chance to vote.
    We could always trust Boris to tell us all the truth I guess!

  • @Peter:
    It’s not just the Government’s own forecasts for GDP. It’s from non politicians, people working at the sharp end, people who have to make future investment decisions who warn of Brexit’s consequences. What gives you a better insight than people whose job is to make decisions about their own businesses? We’ve heard enough warnings from those in the motor industry, also farmers dependant on their export markets. Just today we received another warning on behalf of Japanese companies, which account for ca. 160,000 jobs in this country. I don’t hear any foreign voices representing business who think Brexit is a clever move (apart from Trump who thinks it will play into his America First agenda).

    People seriously need to wake up. Brexit would not as you casually state, just be a “possible short term hit”. If you are re-locating a major company, you don’t chop and change re-locating every couple of years to follow the latest stock exchange trend. Once you leave, you leave for good.

  • Apparently even Ken Clarke thinks the disruption to our economy will only be short term. He is one of the few staunch EU supporters in parliament that I have a good deal of respect for as he didn’t vote for article 50 and he hasn’t changed his views to accommodate the political flavour of the month, but he sensibly sees all the dire doom is nigh predictions as project fear dreamt up by those who have the lost the argument but purely want to scare us into remaining.

  • Peter,
    You don’t have an argument at all. All you have is the odd person here or there that says it might not be too bad. I doubt whether you conduct your own personal affairs in a similar laissez faire way. Somehow we are supposed to set aside all the views of the many experts, who are actually involved in Business and Trade Deals and listen to someone who happens to say something that makes it sound that it will be alright on the night. You have quoted Ken Clarke, but I think you will also find him on record as saying Brexit is a massive act of national self harm. I doubt very much his comments apply to the No Deal, WTO tariff scenario favoured by the ERG, but you could actually give the full reference to his comment to clarify.

  • Peter
    “At the end of the day, who knows you may be right but the 2016 referendum vote went the way of leave and we will have to live with any negative consequences. That’s how democracy works – get over it and move on!”

    Please tell me how MORE democracy can be bad for democracy?

    Every opinion poll in the last three years indicates that the UK has changed its mind and does not want to leave. How can it be good for democracy to have a hard right government with vested interests wrench the UK out against its will?

  • Well 17.4 million agreed that the argument for staying in the EU was lost!
    It does feel like we are just going around in circles Tony. You continually quoting the experts that do not want to leave with predictions of economic destruction. I agree that the short term will be difficult but in the medium to long term I am in no doubt that we will flourish – perhaps you should take more notice of a long standing expert like Mervyn King. He does also make the point that the whole Brexit debate is much more than economics and is far more about politics and a return to sovereign democracy.

  • Peter,

    OK, you want to make leaving the EU about sovereignty? That’s fine.

    So over the lifetime of our EU membership thousands of laws have been made, many of which the UK helped draft. A tiny percentage of these we voted against, in fact just 2%.
    Would you like to tell us which particular EU laws you are so incensed by that you would leave the World’s finest example of collective decision-making, in order to get your way?

  • Michael,
    I can assure you there is no large scale of mind changing. Certainly there will be small numbers who have changed their minds both ways. The main remainer tactic has been to drag out the process and to scare and bore the population to the point where they no longer feel that voting is actually worthwhile. Can that really be considered as more democracy?

  • Peter

    I’m sorry but all your comments are wishful thinking.
    You have provided no factual evidence to support your economic arguments as to the benefit of leaving whereas other contributors have.
    You have provided no factual evidence to support your assertion that no one has changed their mind, in spite of dozens of polls to the contrary.
    You have avoided answering any of the difficult questions levelled at you.
    This isn’t really a meaningful debate.

  • I’m sorry Michael, none of the economic predictions quoted on here are facts they are just that – predictions and opinions. And when have any polls in recent years been accurate?