A cynical explanation of Boris Johnson’s recent actions regarding seeking a deal. Also: the Law and Justice party (PiS) wins in Poland. Guest post by Adrian Beaumont.
Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at The University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.
On October 10, Boris Johnson met with Irish Taoiseach (PM) Leo Varadkar, and the two agreed there was a pathway to a Brexit deal. Johnson abandoned proposals for Northern Ireland that the European Union was never going to accept. But surely Johnson knew his original proposals were unacceptable to the EU – so why this sudden change just a week before the crucial October 17-18 EU summit?
A cynical explanation relates to the Benn Act. Under this legislation, Johnson must apply for a Brexit extension to January 31, 2020, unless he can pass a deal agreed with the EU through the Commons by October 19. Johnson can accept a shorter or longer extension, or refer such an extension to the Commons.
Johnson’s last-minute change makes it unlikely a deal will be finalised by the EU summit. But he may convince the EU that he only needs an extension of a week or two. Once they offer him such a short extension, and he accepts, the Benn Act is fulfilled. If Johnson appears genuine in seeking a deal, ex-Conservative MPs are unlikely to vote for a new Benn Act, so a Commons vote would fail.
The EU could agree to a short extension as the alternatives are worse. Once a long extension is granted, Jeremy Corbyn said on October 14 that Labour will vote for an election. With the Conservatives’ current large poll lead, they would likely win such an election, and then there would be a no-deal majority in the Commons.
If Johnson has a deal in late October or early November, he would interpret a Commons rejection of that deal as a vote for a no-deal Brexit. As filibustering is permitted in the House of Lords, there may not be enough time for a new Benn Act to pass parliament and receive royal assent before the new Brexit deadline. And Johnson could use other tricks, like advising the Queen to refuse royal assent, or another short prorogation.
There are two other plausible explanations for Johnson’s behaviour. One, he’s panicking. Two, he gambled on quickly reaching a deal, and putting it to MPs at the special Saturday sitting of the Commons on October 19, before it could be properly scrutinised.
PiS wins in Poland, but Senate a problem
Poland uses proportional representation in multi-member electorates for the lower house, which assists bigger parties. There is a national vote threshold of 5% for single parties and 8% for coalitions. At the October 13 election, the economically left-wing, but socially conservative and anti-immigrant PiS won 235 of the 460 seats (steady since October 2015), a coalition of conservatives, liberals and greens (KO) won 134 (down 32), the centre-left 49 (returning to parliament), conservatives 30 (down 28) and the far-right 11.
Popular votes were 43.6% PiS (up 6.0%), 27.4% KO (down 4.3%), 12.6% centre-left (up 5.0%), 8.6% conservatives (down 5.4%) and 6.8% far-right (up 2.0%). As no significant party missed the threshold, PiS made no seat gains despite a 6% vote increase.
The 100 senators are elected by first-past-the-post. Opposition parties co-operated in selecting just one candidate per seat (hint hint UK Labour and Lib Dems and Canadian left). PiS won just 48 senators (down 13), losing their Senate majority with no seats for the far-right.
This is PiS’ second successive lower house majority. PiS is popular because Poland is socially conservative. A poll had a legal option for same-sex partnerships opposed by 65% to 35% excluding undecided.
Election updates: Canada and the US
For the October 21 Canadian election, a surge for the Quebec Bloc and the NDP has cost the Liberals their seat advantage over the Conservatives. According to the CBC Poll Tracker, the Conservatives lead the Liberals by 32.4% to 31.8%, with the NDP at 16.7%, the Greens 9.4% and the Bloc 6.5%. Seat expectations are Liberals 137 of 338, Conservatives 135, Bloc 33, NDP 28 and Greens four. Two weeks ago, seat expectations were 162 Liberals, 139 Conservatives, 16 NDP, 16 Bloc and four Greens.
My October 10 Conversation article discussed Trump’s approval ratings, impeachment polling, the good US jobs reports and Democratic polls showing a surge for Elizabeth Warren. Trump could still be re-elected in November 2020 owing to the good economy.