Why Labour And The Tories Both Want Brexit Done Before Christmas

Forget Halloween, there's a new date causing a flurry of excitement among the PM’s allies – 5 November.

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Bonfire of the vanities?

Boris Johnson will definitely be forced to break his Halloween Brexit pledge, thanks to this week’s vote by MPs to demand more time to scrutinise his Withdrawal Agreement Bill. But there’s another date that is causing a flurry of excitement among the PM’s allies.

For those Downing Street aides who want a ‘people versus parliament’ election, there is a mouthwatering prospect looming next month. November 5, Guy Fawkes night, is seen as the last possible day for holding a Commons vote that would trigger a general election this side of Christmas.

‌The Bonfire Night vote would allow two days or ‘wash-up’ of outstanding legislation before a November 7 dissolution of parliament, followed by polling day on December 12 (the Fixed Term Parliaments Act requires 25 sitting days between a dissolution and an election, stay with me folks).

‌Why is November 5 assuming such totemic significance? Well, the PM looks like he’s missed the boat for a late November rather than a December election. To get a November 28 election, he would have had to have dissolved parliament by October 24. That’s tomorrow. Barring some Damascene conversion by his opponents, he will miss that deadline.

‌The other reason that November 5 matters is that it is the first full day of the post-John Bercow era. A new Commons Speaker will be elected on November 4 and many in government are hoping they can get Lindsay Hoyle or a Tory Speaker in place to end the procedural creativity displayed by their predecessor.

‌Now of course the Bonfire Night gambit only works if the PM has given up all hope of getting his Brexit bill through parliament. And for many cabinet ministers (not just Julian Smith and Robert Buckland who went on record today), it’s worth giving Labour one more try to hammer out a new timetable for the bill.

‌Brussels is expected by Friday to grant a ‘flextension’ to the UK’s EU membership to January 31, including a possible a ‘break clause’ at the end of November. Jeremy Corbyn’s own spokesman floated the idea today of a month’s extra time for the bill.

‌One can imagine that if all the stars align (and we have a new business motion on Monday), Brexit could take place on another key date in the British calendar: November 30, St Andrews’ Day (which may have the extra benefit for No.10 of irritating the SNP).

‌Still, why would Labour facilitate a bill that it plans to oppose? That’s a very good question and one that makes No.10 very distrustful indeed of Labour’s olive branch. However, it’s perfectly possible that those 19 Labour MPs who secured the second reading of the bill this week could get it over the line.

‌Also, Labour know that it’s highly unlikely another Benn Act can be passed or that the EU could be persuaded to delay Brexit beyond next January. And given their own priority of stopping no-deal, an election can only be held next year if Brexit is done and dusted.

‌In many ways, that would be a win-win for the government and the opposition. In a hung parliament, things only really happen when they are of mutual benefit to the Tories and Labour. Many in both parties want a spring election, but for very different reasons. Conservative MPs think the only way to neutralise the Brexit Party post-Halloween is to actually deliver Brexit. Labour MPs (many of whom will vote against an early election even if Corbyn wants one) think more time is vital for them to turn the election onto their turf of Tory cuts.

‌The main advocates for an earlier election are Dominic Cummings and the Vote Leave hardcore in No.10, on whom the PM has relied greatly in recent months. Yet some ministers think Cummings’s influence is on the wane and mutter he was put in his place during that meeting of the two tribes (Team Johnson and Team Corbyn) on Wednesday morning. Johnson himself said in PMQs he had ‘excellent’ advice, but stressed ‘it is the role of advisers to advise and the role of the Government to decide’.

‌Some Tory MPs loathe Cummings so much they think he treats Brexit as a glorified vanity project to which their party comes a distant second. His allies think that’s unfair, but it may well be that he has to swallow some collusion with Labour to get Brexit done.

‌Similarly, Corbyn may have to eat his own words about ‘champing at the bit’ for a general election. The SNP, who know they could gift the PM a vote of no confidence election, will have to find a way to save face as they are also apparently reluctant to act alone to help a Tory election this side of Christmas. Brexit ‘hardman’ Steve Baker said this week that the DUP would have to ‘choke down’ on some bitter compromises and they’re not alone.

‌If November 5 comes and goes without an election being triggered, there’ll also have been a bonfire of various vanities in several political parties. The public may not give a damn as long as their pre-Christmas plans aren’t disturbed by those immortal doorstep words ‘may I ask how you’re voting?’

Quote Of The Day

“Will my right hon. Friend get over his disappointment and accept that 31 October is now just Halloween, devoid of any symbolic or political content, and will rapidly fade away into historical memory?”‌

Ken Clarke asks the PM to lose his attachment to his do-or-die date.

Wednesday Cheat Sheet

Boris Johnson told the Liaison Committee of select committee chairs that he would not be attending his planned evidence session on Thursday. He had to ‘now focus on delivering Brexit in these difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves’. Chair Sarah Wollaston was unamused.

‌The PM said all human traffickers “should be hunted down and brought to justice”. A murder investigation has been launched after the discovery of 39 dead bodies in a lorry container in Essex in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

No.10 came up with a novel way to play down the new ‘Irish Sea red tape’ in the Withdrawal Agreement Bill. Yesterday Boris Johnson said ‘some light-touch measures’ would be needed, but today he said ‘there will be no checks between Northern Ireland and GB’. The PM’s official spokesman added there would be “a minimal electronic process” for NI firms.

‌Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said that it was “fantasy politics” to believe a second Brexit referendum could be held before an election. “Boris Johnson is not going to preside for nine months over preparations for and conduct of a public vote.”

‌The PM told SNP leader Ian Blackford that the Scottish Parliament “has no role” in approving his deal. This appeared to breach the 1999 Sewel convention that Westminster will not legislate on devolved matters without the consent of the devolved parliaments.

‌Former Commons Leader Mel Stride was elected as the new chairman of the Treasury Select Committee.

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