Boris Johnson has become Prime Minister during a critical time in the UK’s history. He has promised to deliver Brexit by October 31st, and has less than three months to achieve this deadline. With Parliament in recess, there is inadequate time for both the EU and the UK to prepare for no-deal. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) recently warned that the EU is under-prepared for this outcome, whilst Michael Gove in his new position as the Duchy of Lancaster is stepping up the Civil Service’s preparations for leaving the EU. He warned there is little chance that Brussels will change their minds on the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) on offer.
The chances of proroguing Parliament seem unlikely now. Weeks ago, 315 MPs supported a motion to prevent a new prime minister from suspending Westminster to force through a no-deal Brexit, as opposed to the 274 who did. Although Johnson has not ruled out this option himself, it appears unlikely to happen now. The former London Mayor is a clever man. He has already delivered on his promise to provide the country 20,000 new police officers. He has proven he is serious about legislating his campaign pledges. The Prime Minister must have some plan to ensure that the UK leaves the EU by October 31st.
Johnson has recently pledged to drop the hated Irish backstop from the WA. Yet both Brussels and Dublin have insisted that this is not an option. There are other elements of May’s Chequers Deal that are despised by the Conservative Party’s ERG. These include a type of customs union and the European Court of Justice maintaining jurisdiction over the UK. It seems like the Prime Minister may be deliberately trying to waste time with negotiations to run down the clock before we leave. Meanwhile, Gove is ensuring that all no-deal preparations are in place so that if this country does leave by accident on October 31st, it is prepared for leaving the EU without a deal.
Yet the Prime Minister has another option to guarantee Parliament has a majority for no-deal. MPs return from their summer holidays on September 3rd. With Jeremy Corbyn hinting during a recent interview with Sophie Ridge that he will place a vote of no confidence in the Government soon, Johnson may have no choice but to call the Labour leader’s bluff and hold an election as soon as politicians return to Westminster. This would provide him with six weeks to fight an election and, by the time the result is declared, there will be less than two weeks before Brexit is supposed to happen. The former Foreign Secretary may find an unlikely ally in Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, who may be the only ones that can then help him deliver no-deal.
To do this, both the Tories and the Brexit Party would have to form a pact whereby the former agrees not to field candidates in northern Labour seats that voted to leave the EU, but will never vote for the Conservatives, no matter how hard their Brexit stance is. In return, Farage would have to agree not to field Brexit Party candidates in crucial marginals and safe Conservative seats the Government will need to win the most MPs, or even a majority.
The Brexit Party stand a decent chance of unseating Labour MPs in the North and the Midlands, as proven during this year’s Peterborough by-election. This was triggered by Fiona Onasanya’s recall following her speeding conviction. Labour won 10,484 votes whilst the Brexit Party achieved 9,801 votes, 683 votes short of obtaining the seat. If the Conservatives did not nominate a candidate, many of their 7,243 votes could have helped push Farage’s party over the edge.
During the European elections, the Brexit Party won 29 out of 72 seats. It topped the poll in every region of England except London, and in Wales. The University of Liverpool’s Andrew Russell suggested if this performance was repeated during a Westminster election, the party could win Leave-backing areas like Stoke-on-Trent and Sunderland. Strathclyde University’s Professor John Curtice also warned that the Brexit Party could split the centre-right vote and steal places like Clacton from the Tories.
An electoral pact between the Brexit Party and the Conservatives is absolutely essential if the Prime Minister decides to call an election. As Professor Curtice warned, Farage has real potential to split the centre-right vote and potentially lead to a Labour government being ushered into power. A deal between these centre-right parties would allow the Tories to concentrate on winning key marginals and retaining safe seats, whilst the Brexit Party could do real damage to Labour’s heartlands in the North and Wales. It is also the only way to deliver Brexit.