Boris Johnson‘s government faces a serious setback in its Brexit agenda, after opposition parties have successfully voted with a majority of 328 to 301 to take control of Business of the House of Commons.
This means the government no longer commands a working majority in parliament, so if the opposition parties are successful in passing a bill to delay the UK’s exit date and rule out a no deal Brexit, the Prime Ministers strategy in securing a deal with Brussels might be severely compromised.
In the likely event that the bill will pass, the government is expected to call a snap general election for 15 October under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, but to do so Mr Johnson would need the support of two thirds of the House.
Such a majority may not be difficult to secure, as members of the opposition are likely to support a general election before 31 October, the current Brexit deadline -though doing so may backfire against Labour, who have performed poorly electorally with their unclear Brexit strategy.
Some MPs, such as the Conservative Guto Bebb who spoke to the BBC after voting against the government, fear that if the government does propose a general election, it would choose not hold one until after the 31 October -which is a possibility with the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.
The governments strategy in such a scenario, MPs fear, would be to push through a No-Deal Brexit. However, the government insists it is still determined to secure a deal.
The government has said that all Conservative MPs who have opposed them in allowing MPs to take control of the House of Commons, including the former Chancellor Philip Hammond, Justice Secretary David Gauke, and long serving Tory Ken Clarke, will have the whip removed, meaning they will no longer be able to vote in parliament -unless they change their minds and agree with the governments strategy.
In the event of a general election, the Conservatives may have a chance to reclaim a majority, if those Conservative MPs who lose the whip are replaced by Conservative representatives more loyal to the governments strategy.
How might the government perform in a General Election?
The last major election for the European Parliament saw the Brexit Party coming out on top after winning 29 of the 73 seats, while the Conservatives ended up securing a meager 4 MEPs. The remainder of the votes went to the other major parties which generally favoured either remaining in the EU, like the Lib Dems, or maintaining the Single Market with the EU such as Labour -which would require delaying the current 31 October deadline.
Not all Labour supporters however are staunchly Remainers, so in the event of another general election, some pro-Brexit Labour voters may switch sides to the Conservatives or the Brexit Party, if they fear Labour could not secure leaving the EU.
With such arithmetic based on the last European Parliament elections, it is not inconceivable that a coalition led by Boris Johnson of the Conservatives and Nigel Farage of the Brexit party could win a general election.
The challenges of getting a deal through Parliament
The government and Mr Johnson’s strategy has thus far been to persuade the European Union that the UK is determined to leave the EU by 31 October, no matter what, even if that means leaving with No Deal, which the Prime Minister has repeatedly stated is a viable option.
Even if the government were to win another general election and secure some form of a deal with Brussels which it could present to parliament before the Brexit deadline, there is no guarantee that such a deal would pass through the House, as Theresa May discovered with the challenges faced by her deal which was ultimately defeated -largely due to the issue of the Irish backstop.
If Mr Johnson were to win a general election, then he will have to persuade the EU to change elements of a deal to solve the problems which prevented it from passing under Theresa May‘s premiership. To achieve this difficult task, it may ultimately require delaying Brexit anyway.
EU leaders have for months been opposed to the idea of reopening Brexit negotiations, but in the last few weeks they appear to have developed at the very least a lukewarm attitude to the notion. German Chancellor Angela Merkel last month suggested that if the Prime Minister could come up with a solution to the backstop within 30 days, she would be willing to reconsider reopening negotiations.
With the prospect of a fourth general election in nine years looming however, the government may have too much on its plate to realistically add a viable solution to the Irish Backstop to the mix.
Cover Photo: Cool Britannia? by Andy D’Agorne, available here