Brexit minus seven weeks: the procrastinating parliament

A large share of blame for the Brexit shambles goes to parliament, which can only procrastinate. Also featured: the September 17 Israeli election. 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.

Late on September 9, Parliament was prorogued until October 14, after Boris Johnson again fell well short of the two-thirds Commons majority needed for an early election. Earlier, the bill requiring Johnson to request a Brexit extension by October 19 received royal assent. An election cannot now be held until at least mid-November.

While a majority of the Commons opposes a no-deal Brexit, there is no majority for anything else. Theresa May’s deal was rejected three times by decisive to crushing margins. In late March and early April, several options were considered and all were defeated – even though Conservative MPs were given a free vote and the cabinet abstained.

Parliament’s only decision has been to delay the Brexit date, first from late March to late October, and now they want to delay until at least late January. The Commons could not even decide to hold an election.

Given this procrastination, you can see why polls suggest that voters are fed up with Parliament, and are more sympathetic to a no-deal Brexit than to further delay. Boris Johnson has exploited this sentiment.

The legislation passed by Parliament requires Johnson to seek a Brexit extension by October 19. If he does not request an extension, the courts would order him to. If he still defied Parliament, he would be held in contempt of court, and possibly jailed. However, I don’t think Johnson would stop being PM just because he was in jail. The only qualification to be PM is that you are an MP. Unless the sentence was 12 months or more, Johnson would not be immediately disqualified.

It appears that Johnson’s lawyers will attempt to find loopholes in the legislation, and appeal adverse court decisions. Courts can act far faster than normal when required, but Johnson will hope to get through the 12 days between October 19 and 31 without his actions being declared illegal by the Supreme Court, the highest UK court of appeal.

Prior to the passage of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act during the 2010-15 Parliament, a government defeated on crucial legislation could call an election – as Johnson tried to do. Almost all legislation concerns the general business of government, whereas this legislation seeks to compel just the PM to act against his wishes.

The Australian government cannot refuse to implement the Medevac legislation, as this legislation is carried out by civil servants. Any executive order directly contradicting legislation would be quickly struck out by the courts.

If a no-deal Brexit occurs on October 31, it will be because Johnson forced Parliament to choose between no-deal and something more unpalatable, with no procrastination available. Examples are: no-deal vs PM Jeremy Corbyn, or no-deal vs no Brexit.

Polls released last weekend were mixed. The Conservative lead was 3-5 points in four polls, ten points in Opinium and 14 points in YouGov. A ComRes poll released Tuesday had the Conservative lead falling from four points to one. Having alienated Remain voters, Johnson must avoid disappointing Leave voters, so it seems unlikely he will either extend Brexit or revert to a deal similar to May’s.

On the economic fundamentals, the Conservatives should be winning. In the latest figures, UK unemployment was 3.8%, and real wage growth in the year to July was 1.9% excluding bonuses.

Israeli polls suggest another deadlocked Knesset

Right-wing Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to have won his fourth successive term at the April 2019 election when right-wing and religious parties won a combined 65 of the 120 Knesset seats. But Yisrael Beiteinu demanded conscription be introduced for the ultra-Orthodox, which the religious parties opposed. Netanyahu was unable to form a government, and new elections were scheduled for September 17.

Polls suggest a similar outcome to March 2019. Netanyahu’s Likud and its allies have 56-58 combined Knesset seats. The left-leaning Blue & White and other parties who could support it have 53-55 seats. So Yisrael Beiteinu, which is not a left-wing party, may well decide if there can be a new government after the election.

All 120 Knesset seats are elected by national proportional representation with a 3.25% threshold. Netanyahu’s task will be easier if a far-right party clears the threshold. Polls close at 5am September 18 Australian Eastern Standard Time.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

78 comments on “Brexit minus seven weeks: the procrastinating parliament”

  1. Prorogation was ruled lawful by a N Ireland court. So that makes it 2-1 in favour of the govt, with the English and N Ireland courts supporting, while the Scottish court opposes.

    Next Tuesday the Supreme Court hearing starts, and I would think they would announce their decision by the following week.

  2. Adrian Beaumont @ #51 Saturday, September 14th, 2019 – 10:32 am

    Prorogation was ruled lawful by a N Ireland court. So that makes it 2-1 in favour of the govt, with the English and N Ireland courts supporting, while the Scottish court opposes.

    Next Tuesday the Supreme Court hearing starts, and I would think they would announce their decision by the following week.

    Do these courts (NI, Scotland, England) carry equal weight? I’m thinking about legal and political heft.

  3. When will Brexiters face facts: it is the “Irish question” that is making EU integration an omelette that is near impossible to unscramble. If Johnson wants to secure a legacy of “making Britain great again” (meaning “independent from Europe), he would be well advised to enter into serious discussions with the Taoiseach about an enduring relationship of peace and mutual respect between their respective islands.

  4. Northern Ireland is not the only issue that is of concern to Ireland. Much of Ireland`s trade goes through Great Britain by truck (taking a ferry either side of Great Britain) as well as many of its air routes, Irish trade with the UK and Irish workers in the UK. It is likely that, if the EU treaties allowed Ireland to veto Brexit, Ireland would veto Brexit.

  5. Michael A @ #54 Saturday, September 14th, 2019 – 4:29 pm

    When will Brexiters face facts: it is the “Irish question” that is making EU integration an omelette that is near impossible to unscramble. If Johnson wants to secure a legacy of “making Britain great again” (meaning “independent from Europe), he would be well advised to enter into serious discussions with the Taoiseach about an enduring relationship of peace and mutual respect between their respective islands.

    He won’t do that because of three letters: D.U.P.

    To be fair to the Brexiters, comparing the population count of the UK (67,603,098) and N.Ireland (1,889,300) and similar counts for Australia (25,236,900) and Tasmania (520,830) might be useful. (The numbers are from Wikipedia.) By these population numbers N.I. is 2.8% of the UK and Tasmania is 2.1% of Australia. And Bass Strait is several times wider than than the Irish Sea. The analogy collapses logistically because Tasmania doesn’t share a land border with a ‘foreign’ country, but politically and emotionally it might be relevant to us in Oz, if maybe we were in an equivalent “Asian Union”.

    Just a thought.

  6. Two new polls today, with contradictory results. Opinium has the Tories lead expanding from 10 pts last week to 12, while ComRes has their lead at just one with a Lib Dem surge since last week. In Opinium, Tories plus Brexit at 50% of the vote, in ComRes they’re at just 41%.

    Britain Elects
    @britainelects
    ·
    2h
    Westminster voting intention:

    CON: 28% (-2)
    LAB: 27% (-2)
    LDEM: 20% (+3)
    BREX: 13% (-)
    GRN: 5% (+1)

    via
    @ComRes

    Chgs. w/ 08 Sep
    Britain Elects
    @britainelects
    ·
    5h
    Westminster voting intention:

    CON: 37% (+2)
    LAB: 25% (-)
    LDEM: 16% (-1)
    BREX: 13% (-)
    GRN: 2% (-1)

    via
    @OpiniumResearch
    , fieldwork this week
    Chgs. w/ 06 Sep

  7. Adrian Beaumont @ #58 Sunday, September 15th, 2019 – 10:37 am

    Two new polls today, with contradictory results. Opinium has the Tories lead expanding from 10 pts last week to 12, while ComRes has their lead at just one with a Lib Dem surge since last week. In Opinium, Tories plus Brexit at 50% of the vote, in ComRes they’re at just 41%.

    CON: 28% (-2)
    LAB: 27% (-2)
    LDEM: 20% (+3)
    BREX: 13% (-)
    GRN: 5% (+1)
    via @ComRes Chgs. w/ 08 Sep

    CON: 37% (+2)
    LAB: 25% (-)
    LDEM: 16% (-1)
    BREX: 13% (-)
    GRN: 2% (-1)
    via @OpiniumResearch, fieldwork this week Chgs. w/ 06 Sep

    I don’t know how to read the dates but might they imply that ComRes picked up a late swing?

  8. Late Riser, the dates after “changes w” are from the last issue of that particular poll, ie, the fieldwork for the last ComRes poll ended 8 Sept, and for the last Opinium on 6 Sept.

    I expec t fieldwork for this Sunday’s two polls were almost the same.

  9. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/sep/15/johnson-to-defy-benn-bill-quit-31-october-come-what-may
    Headline:

    Johnson to tell Juncker: ‘I won’t discuss Brexit extension beyond 31 October’

    Opening para:

    Boris Johnson will tell the outgoing European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, on Monday that he will defy a new act of parliament and refuse to discuss or accept any offer to extend the UK’s membership even if a Brexit deal cannot be agreed, Downing Street said last night.

    The article goes on to quote Johnson, “I am straining to get a deal, but I will also end the uncertainty and take us out on 31 October.”

    So Johnson’s approach is to bend the DUP and the EU a compromise. Since this means the DUP have to be on board to get a deal the 4th to last para becomes interesting:

    Downing Street said that David Frost was making good progress in talks with DUP leaders, which could lead to a breakthrough on the issue of the Irish border. While the DUP leader, Arlene Foster, has denied that her party is shifting its position and would now be prepared to accept regulatory checks in the Irish Sea and some regulatory divergence from Britain

    The article doesn’t shed any light on the EU’s take on any of this.

    My conclusion is that unless there is a “breakthrough” regarding N.I. or the UK rescinds article 50 I still think that Brexit-Without-A-Deal is the most likely result.

  10. Wow.

    A new UK wide poll shows strong support for both a Scottish Independence referendum and for a Northern Ireland referendum on joining Ireland or staying in UK!!

    When “don’t knows” are removed the split is 60% in support of a Scottish Independence referendum and 40% against, according to the poll of 1,504 people.

    On the issue of the Northern Ireland border ………When the “don’t knows” are removed the split is 73% in support of the idea and 27% against.

    https://outline.com/ZRsYs7

  11. For a fun/funny read: https://brexitcentral.com/today/brexit-news-for-sunday-15-september/

    Outrage:

    Remainer MPs are secretly plotting to revoke Article 50 and stop the UK leaving the European Union at the end of next month, the Government warned on Saturday night.

    Awe:

    Boris Johnson today tells Brussels that Britain will break out of its ‘manacles’ like The Incredible Hulk if a Brexit deal cannot be struck by October 31.

    Admiration:

    Boris Johnson plans to push through a new Brexit deal in a 10-day blitz, says Number 10.

    Terror:

    DANIEL HANNAN: OUR DEMOCRACY IS BEING OVERTHROWN BY THE EU’S HIDEOUS STRENGTH

    Heroism:

    THE SUN: BORIS JOHNSON WILL NOT BLINK IN STAND-OFF WITH REMOANERS AFTER REBELS COLLUDED WITH LABOUR IN THEIR MISGUIDED BID TO BLOCK NO DEAL BREXIT

    Betrayal:

    Such treachery will irrevocably split the Tory party and hand power to Jeremy Corbyn and his Marxist cronies.

  12. swamprat, those numbers are certainly a “Wow”, but I think it’s dangerous to assume 60% of the 25% will vote Yes and 40% will vote No.

  13. Late Riser,

    That’s a UK wide, therefore mostly English voters.

    It is only supporting having a referendum. It is not measuring support for i dependence itslef.

  14. Under the Good Friday agreement the UK government is obliged to call a NI referendum when there is evidence that it may succeed

    If this poll is even close to correct and Brexit proves to be a disaster, Ireland will be united (much to the secret chagrin of mainstream southern politicians) by 2025

  15. swamprat @ #67 Sunday, September 15th, 2019 – 7:53 pm

    Late Riser,

    That’s a UK wide, therefore mostly English voters.

    It is only supporting having a referendum. It is not measuring support for i dependence itslef.

    Sorry, yes I got that. I was just thinking about the risk in assuming that people who say “don’t know” will split the same as those who had time to think about the question and cared to provide an answer. “25% don’t know” is a large number of potential spoilers.

  16. One change appears to be the UK government’s public recognition and focus on solving the question of the Irish border. Another story about a possible “breakthrough”.
    https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/sep/15/brexit-uk-ministers-talk-up-irish-border-compromise-as-key-to-deal

    Stephen Barclay, the Brexit secretary, and the home secretary, Priti Patel, accepted the Irish border was likely to be a key to any potential agreement.

    …there has been intense focus on ways he could find a plan acceptable to Brussels but which would not be seen by Conservative MPs as a betrayal

    “We have to leave and we have to leave with a deal on 31 October, and there’s no point right now trying to prejudge the discussions that are taking place.”

    Is the Benn thing having an effect or this was always “the plan”. Whatever the motivation though, perhaps all sides might now be looking for something to paper over a hole, or serve as a fig leaf, or…something. As was pointed out to me some time ago, both the UK and the EU can afford some leakage at the Irish border, and both the UK and EU would be better off with a deal than without one.

  17. Late riser

    Polls among English Tory voters showed the majority were happy to lose Scotland from the UK in order to Brexit. I’m sure even more would be happy to lose NI.

    It’s possible a form of the Irish backstop may be on the cards. They can lose the DUP if they get Labour brexiteers..

  18. swamprat

    I regret not having a good History Teacher at school (so-not-my-fault), but in my ignorance it feels as if changes of the magnitude of Scottish independence or Irish re-unification usually involve wars. So perhaps there is hope for us all. And perhaps in hindsight (long after I’m gone) the Bumbling British approach to such things will seem “not-so-bad-considering”.

  19. Ho!

    Lib Dems pledge to revoke Brexit without referendum

    https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/sep/15/lib-dems-pledge-to-revoke-brexit-without-referendum

    I don’t see an election before October 31, but the Lib-Dems have chosen a stance.

    The Liberal Democrats have overwhelmingly approved the party’s plan of going into an election with the promise to revoke Brexit without a referendum, despite warnings from delegates at their annual conference that it risked alienating some voters.

    Something about feeling one’s oats… And the ball is suddenly on Labour’s court.

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