Opponents of a no-deal Brexit just got royally outflanked.
Boris Johnson’s wheeze of getting the Queen to order a five-week suspension of Parliament means his critics have much less time than they thought to prevent the UK leaving the European Union without a deal on October 31.
Before today, their preferred option was to pass a law requiring the government to seek an extension to the Brexit deadline and hold a second referendum, should negotiations with the EU fail to result in a deal.
But with Parliament due to return from its annual summer break on September 3, they now have just a few days to engineer the required legislation before Johnson’s suspension takes effect.
That could force them to fall back on Plan B – a vote of no-confidence in the government. The trouble is, for that to succeed, they need Conservative lawmakers to vote against their own party, which was always going to be a tall order.
In any event, a new parliamentary session will begin on October 14 with the traditional State Opening of Parliament and Queen’s Speech, when the monarch reads out a text written by Downing Street that sets out the government’s legislative priorities. That’s typically followed by several days of parliamentary debate. And while Johnson has hitherto been happy to tear up the norms of British political life, this is a tradition that will suit him very well.
An EU Council summit is due to take place on October 17 and 18. If Johnson returns from this event brandishing a new Brexit deal, he will hope to ram it through Parliament in the two weeks left until Brexit day. And after that? A swift general election, riding the wave of Brexit triumph, to cement his authority?
But if negotiations with the EU fail and Johnson sets a path to no-deal, things could look very different. The trouble for his opponents is that, by this point, their room for maneuver would be severely limited.
Even if they could muster enough support to pass a vote of no confidence, UK law sets out a two-week window for a new government to be formed, or a general election to be called. Meanwhile, the Brexit countdown clock would continue to tick.
Opponents of Brexit are already denouncing Johnson’s machinations as a constitutional outrage and are planning a parliamentary showdown next week.
Johnson however, seems very pleased with himself, pointing out that Parliament will be sitting in the run-up to Brexit and the whole affair is perfectly in order, given that his predecessor, Theresa May, had allowed the previous parliamentary session to drag on.
Whatever happens, it’s clear that next week will be very bumpy indeed – and, as ever with Brexit, only the rashest of pundits would attempt to predict the outcome with any degree of certainty. Time to buckle up.