Brexit, Poland and elsewhere

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.

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.

103 comments on “Brexit, Poland and elsewhere”

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  1. Aiming for a week or so long extension to fulfill the Benn Act was my guess as well. He can argue that its not really an “extension” in the sense that its not the dithering ‘nothing else to do’ extension of previous times – if he can say a deal is literally around the corner.

    One obvious problem is that EU leaders are already saying this deal of Johnsons will likely take months, not weeks, to finalise.

  2. In the last thread, I mentioned a Panelbase Scottish poll. The Indy referendum result from that poll is out, and it’s 47-46 No to Independence (48-46 in June).

    If there was a no-deal Brexit, Yes to Ind leads by 54-46.

  3. I’m having trouble with a couple of aspects of this fiasco, which I’m hoping someone can help explain.

    1/ The timing of the extension under the Benn Act. If the EU offers an extension to 31st Jan, Johnson must accept it – OK, got that. But what exactly are the options if the EU offers any other date? For example, suppose they offer 1st Feb? On my reading, Johnson could just refuse the offer and then claim he has complied with the act, thus leading to Brexit at the end of October. Is this reading correct?

    2/ In Australia, if the PM doesn’t want parliament to sit for a while, he can just suspend sittings – no need for prorogation. Why is the UK different?

    Edit: Got the date wrong.

  4. Ante Meridian, see the article. If the EU offers any other date, Boris can either accept, or refer to the Commons for acceptance (very likely).

    I’m not sure where you get the idea that an Aus PM can suspend parliament without prorogation. To change the sitting schedule, a vote in the relevant chamber must be approved. Near the end of each year, a sitting schedule for the next year is approved by both chambers.

  5. Adrian Beaumont,

    Well, yes, technically the PM can’t suspend parliament on his own. But in practice it’s just a matter of his government passing a vote in the chamber. Is that why Johnson needs to prorogue – because he doesn’t have the numbers for a simple suspension?

  6. There is no way the DUP can possibly support a deal if what we are hearing about where negotiations are at is correct. They supported Boris Johnson’s last proposal mostly because it contained a right of veto for the Northern Ireland assembly, which in practice meant the DUP could have ensured the arrangements never actually came in to place as I understand it. Even so, as I posted in the previous thread, the DUP have been subject to considerable Unionist backlash for supporting even that proposal. If they were to support a proposal trapping Northern Ireland in the EU customs union in any form and without any way out, they would be decimated. Considering this and the rumblings of a split among hard Brexiteers, this is all showing signs of unravelling!

  7. A national Panelbase poll only has Labour three points behind the Tories. Tweet from Europe Elects; letters after hyphens are the parties’ European factions.

    Europe Elects @EuropeElects
    UK, Panelbase poll:

    CON-ECR: 33% (+2)
    LAB-S&D: 30% (+2)
    LDEM-RE: 17% (-2)
    BREXIT-NI: 12% (-3)
    SNP-G/EFA: 4% (+1)
    GREENS-G/EFA: 3% (+1)
    UKIP-ID: 0%

    +/- vs. 3-4 Sep

    Fieldwork: 9-11 October 2019
    Sample size: 2,013

  8. Just turned on the TV. It was the ABC – Question Time had just started. Albo asked the PM a question about the IMF Report. Didn’t stay for the answer, I already know what it will be:

    “Blather blather blather… Labor Labor Labor… Lie lie lie…”

    I’ll have a look to see what I have recorded.

  9. This piece in the Guardian is not strictly about Brexit politics, but still interesting in the sense of what Brexit is and why the negotiations are difficult.

    For days there has been an intense focus on customs arrangements. Could something be devised to allow Northern Ireland to trade as if it were still in the EU, while reassuring hardline unionists that they have left? Apparently so.

    …Johnson envisages a future in which the UK does not shadow EU market rules. The greater the regulatory divergence on either side of a border, the harder that border has to be.

    …The more aggressively Britain intends to price itself relative to the rest of Europe, the harder the EU will make it for British goods and services to be sold within the single market.

    It includes an analysis of the difference between May and Johnson, and the strategic dangers for the UK if it strains the economic ties with the EU too aggressively. May and the EU negotiators understood the dangers, and Johnson doesn’t.

  10. oh dear…

    and as reported by the guardian blog, it seems that whatever the DUP do has a lot of influence on a group of Tory hard brexiters:

    “DUP views will help determine whether Tory Brexiters back deal, says David Davis
    David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, told the Today programme this morning that some Tory Brexiters would be strongly influenced by the DUP in deciding whether or not to back Boris Johnson’s deal. In an interview this morning the presenter, Nick Robinson pointed out that the DUP have 10 votes in the Commons. Davis said that understated their influence.

    You said 10 votes, by the way earlier. Just as an aside on that, there will be quite a lot of Tory MPs who will take their line from what the DUP do.”

  11. @Big A Adrian

    One of the twitter replies is on the right track with a point about DUP fig leaves. But I think a better metaphor can be derived from the idea of a DUP tail wagging the Tory dog. Think about a dog with its tail up, from behind. Is it too much to say that the DUP’s job is to provide cover for Tory a***holes?

    (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

  12. The two day EU summit is about to start. (In approx 27 hours.) They have more than Brexit to attend to.

    In the light of events, the European Council may address specific foreign policy issues.

    So unless there is a deal ready to approve then the negotiators have at a guess no more than 2 days left to come up with something, or the most likely outcome seems that Brexit is extended early next week. And if Brexit isn’t extended because one of the 27 refuses the UK request, then there would be about 10 days left before no-deal Brexit happens.

  13. Digging a little further the EU summit does have a spot for Brexit.

    European Council, 17-18/10/2019
    Agenda highlights
    The European Council will meet on 17 and 18 October 2019 to discuss a number of important issues, including EU long-term budget, priorities for the next 5 years and Brexit.

    Long-term EU budget
    Strategic agenda and the next institutional cycle

  14. William Bowe @ #20 Wednesday, October 16th, 2019 – 9:04 pm

    Thanks to an amendment moved by Jacob Rees-Mogg, section 55(1) of the Taxation (Cross-Border Trade) Act 2018 has this to say:

    It shall be unlawful for Her Majesty’s Government to enter into arrangements under which Northern Ireland forms part of a separate customs territory to Great Britain.

    Too funny. But could it be de jure versus de facto? Johnson said something about a “friendly” no deal earlier in the week that made no sense.

  15. Another Yuuge lead for the Tories in YouGov (15 pts). They’ve gained from the Lib Dems in this poll, perhaps because some LDs are ex-Tories who much prefer a deal to no-deal.

    Europe Elects @EuropeElects
    UK, YouGov poll:

    CON-ECR: 37% (+2)
    LAB-S&D: 22%
    LDEM-RE: 18% (-2)
    BREXIT-NI: 11% (-1)
    GREENS-G/EFA: 5% (-1)
    SNP-G/EFA: 4%
    PC-G/EFA: 1%
    UKIP-ID: 1% (+1)
    ChUK-RE: 0%

    +/- vs. 8-9 October 2019

    Fieldwork: 14-15 October
    Sample size: 1,625

  16. I have in previous posts mentioned that I believed that the DUP has some influence with hard line Brexiteers, and this appears to be playing out, making it difficult to imagine a deal passing the Commons if the DUP withdraw their support. I will now ad to this that there are some rumblings that some Scottish Conservatives may find it difficult to support a deal which creates different rules for Northern Ireland. A comment I heard late last night probably best sums up the situation that Boris Johnson finds himself in; it went something like, the closer he gets to adopting the EU position on Northern Ireland, the more votes he loses from hard line Brexiteers.

  17. It certainly remains the case that with the odd exception, the Conservatives continue to hold a very significant lead in the polls, a lead which if it were to play out at a GE would give them a large majority. However, an interesting question is, what happens if, as seems very likely, Boris Johnson does not get the UK out of the EU by October 31? One possibility is that the Conservatives would bleed at least some of their support to the Brexit Party. The Brexit Party will go to a pre Brexit GE campaigning on a platform that a “clean break” i.e no deal Brexit is the only way of ensuring that Brexit is ever actually delivered, and I have little doubt that in a situation where yet another extension occurs, this message will gain some traction.

  18. It has been my view for some time now that there are only two feasible Brexit options, no deal and remain. Anyone pursuing a deal will suffer May’s fate, as Johnson is discovering. Perhaps Corbyn will be next to discover the danger of that goal.

    Few interesting points in this article.

    it (Brexit) pits the malleable pragmatism of representative government against the rigid mandate of government by populist referendum.

    The fault with that lies in the way the referendum process was devised – verdict first, terms later.

    in reality almost everything about Britain’s future relationship with the EU is still to be decided.

    Brexit won the vote. But it’s an ideology not a policy. When its supporters tried to turn it into policies, as they are still trying to do, it fell apart.

    Wrong thread I know, but for basic ideological change (SSM, climate, republic) perhaps there are some practical political lessons there for Australia too.

  19. Adrian what are those acronyms next to each party from the yougov poll?

    Also has anyone attempted a seat projection from any of the polls?

  20. Late Riser

    I couldn’t agree more with your first comment. It has been my belief for a long time now that the crunch problem would be Northern Ireland, and that it would be impossible to find a solution that would be acceptable to Unionists in Northern Ireland and hard Brexiteers, while also being acceptable to the Republic of Ireland, who have the ability to veto any agreement as EU rules require all member countries to agree. I also agree with the quotes in that article; none of these issues were given anything even close to proper consideration prior to the referendum. Instead, Brexit became an idea, or ideology, but without consideration to how it would be practically implemented.

  21. Gary J @ #28 Thursday, October 17th, 2019 – 11:16 am

    Big A Adrian – The acronyms next to the party name in the poll, refer to the European Parliament the MEPs from each party belongs to.

    Thanks Gary. The web address was slightly off though, seems like the space before “groups” was lost. This one worked for me.

  22. Love to learn stuff.

    In the EU parliament, rather than forming national groups…

    its members (MEPs) organise themselves into ideological groups


    are strictly forbidden to campaign during the European elections

    and are…

    assumed to have a set of core principles, and political groups that cannot demonstrate this may be disbanded

    So the political “groups” are formed by like minded members from across the political “parties”, presumably *after* each election. Furthermore, to borrow some words from Martin Kettle, the process (or system) would embody “malleable pragmatism of representative government”. EU “groups” are “supranational”, just like the EU parliament is “supranational”. I can see why nationalists might be spooked by that and by the EU in general, and why words like “sovereignty” work so well for them. And also why a conservative minded voter might struggle with the unpredictability of “malleable” politics and the diminishing influence of the term “mandate”.

  23. Matt31says:
    Thursday, October 17, 2019 at 10:42 am

    If Boris doesn’t get the UK out on 31 Oct then next most likely thing is an election.

    What then could happen is the Conservatives actually sit down with the Brexit Party and come to an agreement such that the Conservatives don’t run in any seat that they don’t hold that voted for Brexit at the Referendum and the Brexit Party doesn’t run against Conservative Candidates. They put out a joint message that if they win they will make Brexit happen with a majority in the house. The Conservatives will need to also agree to being in Coalition and giving some Cabinet Seats and DPM to the Brexit Party.

    I doubt either party are smart enough to agree to it but one can hope.

  24. I do find it very funny that the SNP is all “No Brexit” but it is the Scotxit Party and all the Remainers are decrying BREXIT as leading to the breakup of the UNion but very quiet on the SNP because they are also Remainers.

  25. Latest YouGov poll gives Conservatives a 15 point lead over Labour 37-22. Labour will do anything it can to avoid an election at this stage.

  26. If a Brexit extension is granted, I’m not sure Labour would be wise to block an election in spite of their poor position in the polls. If they were to do that, having got exactly what they wanted through the Benn Act, I think things would actually get even worse for them than they appear to be now. Having said that, I have heard that opinion in Labour is divided on this; that Corbyn is still keen to go to an election once an extension is locked in, but that others are wavering. While this is understandable, again, I think this would be very unwise.

    On the idea of the Conservatives and the Brexit Party working together, the Brexit Party have certainly expressed a willingness to do this if the Conservatives pursue a “clean break” or no deal Brexit. I think a lot is going to come down to how Boris Johnson decides to handle having to accommodate the extension he said would not happen. Of course, all this still assumes no deal is reached in the current negotiations, and while that still seems to me very much the likely outcome, it is not locked in.

  27. Regarding European factions, the UK Tories should be in European People’s Party – that’s the faction for centre-right Euro parties. But because of all the Britain, not Europe, stuff, they’re in Europe Conservatives and Reformers instead, the same faction as Poland’s PiS and other pretty right-wing parties.

  28. Bucephalus @ #32 Thursday, October 17th, 2019 – 12:30 pm

    I do find it very funny that the SNP is all “No Brexit” but it is the Scotxit Party and all the Remainers are decrying BREXIT as leading to the breakup of the UNion but very quiet on the SNP because they are also Remainers.

    I don’t see a dissonance. Leaving the political opportunism out of it, perhaps most Scots want to be part of the EU more than they want to be part of the UK. Scotxit(?) makes sense if they have to choose one over the other. English Remainers want to be part of the EU and likely don’t want the UK to split either. The Irish are preoccupied with borders. And there aren’t enough Welsh to matter. Seems simple enough.

  29. For seat projections, you can use Electoral Calculus. The current YouGov poll is a Tory majority of 174 with 412 of 650 seats.

    Owing to disagreeements between pollsters as to the size of the Tory lead, the Electoral Calculus home page predicts a mere 12-seat majority, with 331 seats.

  30. The Conservatives will need to also agree to being in Coalition and giving some Cabinet Seats and DPM to the Brexit Party.

    Agreed, if there is no Brexit this month, as seems likely. Farage and his Brexit Party will be the big winner after the GE. But I don’t see the Tories and BP in a formal coalition before the GE. Johnson’s strategy has been to steal support off the BP with “die in a ditch” (to show willingness) and “no alliance” (your only choice is me). He’s got too much to lose by locking in now.

  31. I am starting to wonder if Boris Johnson’s strategy could go something like:

    •Get a deal with the EU, even if that means throwing the DUP/Northern Ireland Unionism under a bus
    •If this gets through Parliament, great
    •If it doesn’t, go to a GE with a deal in his pocket and campaign on a platform of a vote for the Conservatives is the only sure way to get Brexit done.

    Of course, like all options this does contain risks, including a risk that hard liners, for example the Brexit Party and some Conservatives, campaign on a platform that a Brexit that threatens the Union is not a true Brexit, but I am wondering if that is the direction he has chosen. I hope I am wrong!

  32. @Matt31, I think you’re right.

    If I start with the premise that Johnson’s strategic goal is to continue to be Prime Minister of Britain (G7 and all that), I could ask what he might be willing to sacrifice (maybe peace in Ireland, maybe the Union) and risk (too many not wanting him to be PM) to achieve that. Like you did in your post. So, yes. It sounds about right.

    I’d add one thing though, that despite the general exhaustion with 3 years of Brexit BRExit BREXIT, Johnson as PM and any deal are too new to be accepted now. He’ll need a GE for the time it takes to absorb the change (but not too long). So I think you can remove your second option and he’s thinking along lines like this.

    * Get a deal acceptable to the EU and unacceptable to the UK parliament. (Easy! Just need to fool cabinet.)
    * Get an extension. (Likely. The EU has signalled.)
    * Win a GE and execute the deal in a new parliament. (Likely. Look at the polls.)
    * Enjoy life. (Easy!)

    (This is of course the scenario as envisaged by Johnson.)

  33. Boris`s strategy is almost certainly to get a vote on a deal through before the Benn Act forces an extension, not get an extension, not pass the legislation to actually enact the approved deal, leave without a deal on the 31ston this month.

    This is almost certainly why Jacob Reece-Mogg appears to be backflipping on his hardline Eurosceptic positions, because a successful fake backflip paves the way for a no deal Brexit.

    However it looks like the DUP and some other Tories are unable to go along with the the backflip, even if it is fake and this looks increasingly likely to get the extension through.

  34. It defies all logic that the DUP and Spartan wing consistently voted against May’s deal but would be willing to vote for this deal which puts a border down the Irish Sea.

    If it indeed looks like the votes aren’t there, then if Labor offered to support it subject to an approve or revoke referendum… do you think Boris would go for it? Not if he can get an election and likely majority… but dont you think this is an effective Labor strategy?

    If the vote to pass is looking so close that prudence dictates trying to add an amendment to the vote making it subject to a confirmatory referendum, i dont know if the amendment passes.

    Continues to be the most fascinating tactical bloodsport in theory, the practical implications put the game theory in perspective of course.

  35. Tom if the bill passes then how to “not get the extension” – provoke one EU member into vetoing?

    Passing with a referendum will guarantee an extension as its only upside for the EU (better than May deal or revoke)?

  36. If the Parliament votes for a deal (or a no deal Brexit, but the definitely won`t do that) before the extension has been applied for, then no application is necessary.

    The approval of a deal by the House of Commons required by the Benn Act is only by the passage of a motion (a debate in the House of Lords is also required), with no actual legislation required to prevent the requirement for an extension to be applied for coming into force.

    There is also not time to hold a referendum before the 31st of this month.

  37. No-deal is simply not possible now LR. At least not before October 31. Unless there is some magical loophole in the Benn Act that literally no one has found yet.

    Referendum is now gaining momentum with labour backing.

  38. DUP are acting super weird. The Irish sea border proposal should have them exploding with rage – as protecting the continuity of the union is basically their raison d’etre. The idea that they would even consider a deal that involves thrusting a customs border between NI and the mainland should be laughable – given what they stand for.

    Sure, now they are rejecting it – but they are not exactly screaming blue murder that it was even suggested – which is what you would expect. In fact they are not at this stage even mentioning the obvious objection – that it is so blatantly threatening the contiguity of the union – but just mumbling some bs about VAT or some such rubbish.

    Its simply bizarre. What is Number 10 and DUP up to?

    My theory: DUP is really red hot mad with Number 10, but at this stage they are being incentivised (bribed?) to hold their tongue for now. Who knows what Boris and Dominic are cooking up – the only thing I can think of is that they ‘re hoping to keep DUP quiet long enough so as to get enough Tories and ex-tories on board – especially if said tories are lured in by seeing what DUP does.

    Another possiblity is that DUP are just soaking up the limelight and making the most of this once-in-a-lifetime gift of unique power and influence they have. Storming out of Number 10 in rage finishes that gift pretty quickly.

    The price they presumably pay is a hopping mad constituency who will likely come out with baseball bats at the next election for their betrayal of the union.

  39. Big A Adrian @ #46 Thursday, October 17th, 2019 – 6:25 pm

    No-deal is simply not possible now LR. At least not before October 31. Unless there is some magical loophole in the Benn Act that literally no one has found yet.

    Referendum is now gaining momentum with labour backing.

    Sorry. Hurried ambiguity. No Deal is all Johnson has to offer. No more that 2 days 14 hours before the Benn Act bites. Without a deal to consider will parliament still sit on Saturday? Will Johnson write his letter on time? Will he be rejected? What will Boris do? Cue theme music and credits…

  40. Another possiblity is that DUP are just soaking up the limelight and making the most of this once-in-a-lifetime gift of unique power and influence they have. Storming out of Number 10 in rage finishes that gift pretty quickly.

    Blinded by the light? It fits. What Arlene Foster said about the DUP joining May’s government was, “It was a big prize for us.” (4C Brexit special) They seem reluctant to piss off Johnson so they delay and weasel it. I expect they will get punished for it at the GE.

  41. Boris Johnson and the EU are both saying the deal is done.

    On the DUP, I too have at times questioned their tactics in recent weeks; but I actually think they are behaving in a way so as to maximise their influence. They have now said they can’t support the deal. They will now have one aim; to bring as many hard Brexiteers with them as possible. They won’t do that by raging and ranting and hurling abuse at Boris Johnson or the Conservatives in general. I am sure there’ll be Unionists in Northern Ireland that would like to see screaming and table thumping; but what will matter most to them is the end result. If the DUP can help bring this deal down, they will be just fine with their base. Also consider that the DUP will not want to be held responsible in any way for any violent Unionist backlash against this deal, certainly not yet anyway.

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