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.
In the Westminster system, the government usually controls the lower house of parliament, so bills passed contrary to the government’s wishes are relatively rare. If the UK Parliament were to pass a bill requiring Boris Johnson to seek a Brexit extension beyond the current October 31 deadline, he has two options to defy Parliament. It is the PM, not Parliament, that needs to make the extension request to the European Union leaders.
First, Johnson could advise the Queen to refuse royal assent. As Anne Twomey wrote in January, such a move would put the Queen in an invidious position: she would need to make a political choice between accepting the advice of ministers, or the advice of Parliament. The Queen would be likely to accept Parliament’s advice and give royal assent, as a government that advised to refuse assent would be an admission it had lost confidence.
A second option for Johnson would be to simply ignore any legislation passed contrary to the government’s wishes. Parliament can legislate, but it is the government that implements and enforces that legislation with its civil servants, police and courts. Civil servants are highly unlikely to defy Parliament en masse, but legislation requiring Johnson to seek an extension would attempt to only bind him, and I do not believe there is any way Parliament can force Johnson to comply – except by sacking him and appointing someone more friendly to Parliament as PM.
If there is a no-confidence vote in Johnson, he would remain caretaker PM until an ensuing election unless the Commons voted for confidence in a new government within 14 days after the initial no-confidence vote. As I said in my previous article, such an election could be held on or after October 31, by which time a no-deal Brexit would have occurred.
To thwart a no-deal Brexit, the Commons must express confidence in a new government before the 14 days have elapsed. If Johnson tried to hang on after someone else had won the confidence of the Commons, I believe the Queen would sack him. The problem for opponents of a no-deal Brexit is that there is currently no viable alternative government.
Jeremy Corbyn has proposed that everyone who wants to stop a no-deal support a temporary Corbyn government that would extend Brexit and call a general election. His main problem is that, while there are some Conservative MPs opposed to a no-deal Brexit, they won’t vote for a socialist PM even to prevent that outcome.
As commentator Stephen Bush argued, it would be politically self-destructive for Corbyn to allow someone else to become PM, as doing so would validate his critics’ contention that he is unfit to be PM. Some far-left Labour MPs might resist backing a non-Corbyn PM even if Corbyn were to stand aside.
A third way for Parliament to thwart no-deal is to revoke the Article 50 legislation. Assuming such a revocation received royal assent, Brexit would be cancelled. On April 1, a Commons amendment to revoke was defeated by 292 votes to 191. While there is a Commons majority against no-deal, I believe that if the choice was no-deal or no Brexit, no-deal would win.
In summary, a Brexit extension is most likely to pass Parliament, but unlikely to be effective in binding Johnson. An alternative government is not currently viable, and nor is repealing Brexit. If Johnson sticks to his guns, Britain is likely headed over the cliff-edge.
In this discussion, I have ignored the House of Lords. The Lords is far more pro-Remain than the Commons, so any legislation to pass the Commons that moves towards Remain is likely to easily pass the Lords.
A final hope for no-deal opponents is that Johnson is bluffing, and will propose something similar to Theresa May’s rejected deal at the 11th hour. Johnson has ranted against May’s deal since he resigned as foreign secretary in July 2018. He won the Conservative leadership on a promise to get Britain out by October 31, and appointed a hard Leave cabinet. I do not think he is bluffing.
Trump’s ratings slightly down after gun massacres
I wrote for The Conversation on August 14 that Joe Biden continues to lead the US Democratic primaries. Trump’s ratings have fallen slightly since the August 3-4 gun massacres. There has been little movement in Trump’s ratings since that article; his net approval is currently -11.1% with polls of registered or likely voters in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate.