Richard North, 07/08/2019  

Barely had we done with speculating about the prospects of an alternative government, that could take over from the Tories in the event of a successful vote of no confidence, then down came the shutters.

The precise form arrives with a statement from shadow chancellor John McDonnell who has declared that a caretaker government set up to block a no-deal Brexit would have to be led by the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn.

The shadow chancellor is said to hold "considerable sway" over Mr Corbyn, and argues that there is still time for the House of Commons to block a no-deal. But he dismisses suggestions that what some have described as a cross-party "government of national unity" might be formed to frustrate Johnson's plans for a no-deal exit.

Previously, we had seen diverse names touted as a replacement prime minister, including Yvette Cooper, Jo Swinson, Caroline Lucas or Hilary Benn. But all of those would require Labour working with opposition parties, including the Lib-Dems, SNP and Change UK to make it happen.

In fact, as Pete points out, there is precisely zero chance of a government of national unity coming to pass. "As bad as the current government is", he says:
there is something about that duo that makes me physically ill even to think of. Smug, snobby, sanctimonious and entitled to the max. There is no bandwagon they won't leap on. The UK could not survive with virtue signalling as its only policy basis. Theirs is the politics of spoiled middle class liberals who buy into the establishment's projected self-image - who were genuinely surprised by Brexit because it interrupted their childlike notion that the UK was a progressive utopia as embodied by the 2012 opening ceremony.
Adds Pete: "If we really are at a state where the likes of Caroline Lucas/Yvette Cooper are offered up as leadership propositions then British society as a whole is so degraded and debased that there's nothing left worth saving".

What McDonnell has said, however, is that it isn't going to happen any other way. He insists that Labour would have to be in pole position "because we wouldn't enter into coalitions or pacts". It would, he says, "be a Labour government which had a particular purpose, that is to stop a no-deal [Brexit]".

In his book, any alternative to the Tories has to be a Labour government, "because that is the way that we will get the bulk of the support behind us in terms of the Parliamentary Labour party". With that, and "a number of Conservative MPs on the backbenches now who will do anything they possibly can to prevent a no-deal", McDonnell evidently believes Johnson can be deposed.

Yet, since there are some Labour MPs who may side with the Tories in a vote of no confidence, and not all the opposition parties are necessarily going to enter into a "big tent" coalition, a credible alternative government will require more than just the support of Labour and Tory rebels.

Effectively, the way is now clear for Johnson to provoke a vote of no confidence after the summer recess, in the comfortable expectation that his losing the vote will enable him to go to the Queen with his own date for a general election, and then stand by while the clock runs out on Brexit.

As to the opposition being a "disorganised rabble", with zero chance of deposing Johnson, even ITV's Peston seems to agree, although The Times is somehow seeing in the McDonnell statement a "hint" that Labour and the SNP are preparing to join forces in order to oust Johnson.

This is on the basis that Labour is saying that it would not block a second referendum on Scottish independence, in what is said to be a significant policy shift, the assumption being that there is a quid pro quo in the offing.

Peston, on the other hand, suggests that there were "no ifs or buts" about McDonnell. "He was categoric", the man says. Nevertheless, he doesn’t seem to have got his head round the Tory game. He sees a general election in terms of pre-exit context, turning the election into a referendum that gives people the final choice "on whether the UK leaves the EU without a deal or whether it remains in the EU".

In what passes for his logic, Peston believes that Johnson would probably win - either because he succeeds in rigging the election timetable such that the new government cannot be formed till after the UK has left the EU on 31 October, or because Corbyn would not offer voters the necessary simple choice between a Tory party that would remove the UK from the EU, no ifs or buts, and a Labour party that would keep the UK in the EU.

As to the post-31 October election date, this is a prospect which Peston regards as "unlikely", clearly failing to understand that without Brexit in the bag, Johnson has trust issues with Farage supporters and will never bring enough of them into the fold to give him a majority.

The way I see it, Johnson will frame the election – which seems now to be a done deal – in terms of "people versus parliament", with him cast in the role as representing the people. But during the campaign, I would expect him to make minimal references to Brexit, relying on the deed rather than the promise, hyping up issues such as the NHS and his social care agenda, in an attempt to bring in as many uncommitted votes as possible.

That way, the fact of leaving the EU on 31 October, possibly a week before we go to the polls, will speak for itself, keeping his loyalists on-side and sucking up the bulk of the Farage supporters. It's hardly surprising that a bubble-dweller should see it differently, but only time will tell which it is to be.

Meanwhile, speaking of logic, the idiot Gove is turning reality upside-down, asserting that the EU is "refusing to negotiate". As such, he is "deeply saddened" that Brussels was in his words, saying "no, we don't want to talk".

This perversion of reality comes as Irish PM Leo Varadkar has reiterated that the withdrawal deal, including the backstop, cannot be renegotiated, while the European Commission is still saying that it is willing to hold further talks, "should the UK wish to clarify its position".

One struggles to believe that Gove is actually a Cabinet minister – in fact, in charge of no-deal preparations. But it cannot be that he actually believes the tosh he is churning out. Most likely, this is part of the structured attempt at blame-shifting, establishing some sort of alibi for when, despite all efforts, the no-deal goes belly-up.

His argument on this seems to be that, since the UK government has failed to achieve parliamentary ratification, the EU should necessarily give ground and concede on the backstop.

Not a single Tory of any status seems to be able to cope with the idea that the backstop is vital to maintaining the integrity of the Single Market, and the only way the EU can support an open Irish border. If the UK has "red lines", so does the EU – and this is one of them.

It is all very well having Johnson's Sherpa, David Frost, saying that the new government is not bound by commitments made during the May era, such as the need for a "legally operable" Irish border solution, but the EU is bound by the need for a legally operable border solution - both to satisfy its own system of rules and those of the WTO.

There were, of course, other pathways the Johnson administration could have taken. Given the dubious way in which he assumed office, and his slender majority, it would have been entirely reasonable for the prime-minister-in-office to go to Brussels and ask for a further Article 50 extension, to give time for a general election – which is apparently what the "colleagues" were expecting.

In a "people versus parliament" election, he could have made the Withdrawal Agreement the key issue, effectively committing a new parliament to support it. And if he is so certain that his "alternative arrangements" will fit the bill, he should have no fear of the backstop – especially in the context of the Strasbourg Agreement – anticipating that it should never come into force.

Broadly, as Peston says – proving that even a TV hack can occasionally get things right - the choices have always been between "a near facsimile of May's settlement, remaining in the EU or a no-deal Brexit". Quite obviously, Johnson has opted for a no-deal, without even trying for an alternative, leaving the European Commission entirely pessimistic about the outcome.

"The case is hopeless", says one official - whose corollary, for better or worse, is that Johnson's "no-ifs-or-buts, do-or-die Brexit" may be a locomotive on a collision course.

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