by Frank Schnittger
Wed Sep 4th, 2019 at 10:10:45 AM EST
Theresa May doesn't look too displeased after Boris' defeat.
She had earlier accompanied Philip Hammond to the Commons.
The decision by Boris Johnson to expel the 21 MPs who voted against the Government on the Bill to mandate the government to seek a further A.50 extension may well prove to be the watershed moment in the prolonged Brexit débâcle. It automatically turns a narrow government majority into a large opposition majority and the only question now is whether that opposition can find a common course of action they can actually agree on.
We always knew there was a Parliamentary majority against no deal. The problem was that majority couldn't agree on anything other than the most minimalist proposals amongst themselves. The hardline Johnson-Cummings strategy of pursuing a no-deal Brexit, failing to engage in any meaningful negotiations with the EU, proroguing parliament for an extended period, threatening not to comply with the wishes of parliament even if these were transposed into law, and threatening to expel and de-select any who voted against the government, gave the rebels little choice.
Once again the Brexiteers had overestimated the strength of their own position and under-estimated the resolve of their opponents. The EU and Ireland can tell a similar tale. Dominis Cummings ranted at the rebels "I don't know who any of you are" as they waited in 10 Downing street to see the Prime Minister. A love bombing it was not.
Who are the 21 Tory rebels who have lost the whip?
Conservative rebels said they felt "liberated" walking through the lobbies facing imminent deselection as they backed moves to stop no-deal Brexit, with several emphasizing that the government's threats had been the catalyst for their decisions.
Among the 21 rebels who lost the Conservative whip were eight former cabinet ministers, some of whom occupied the country's highest offices just weeks ago, as well as multiple Conservative veterans including the grandson of Sir Winston Churchill.
The defiance of the rebel group has led some in government to question whether the nuclear strategy of threatening deselection and cancelling an earlier meeting with key former ministers had been the right move.
No 10 attempted a round of last-minute diplomacy ahead of the crunch vote, including convening a meeting with senior rebels such as Philip Hammond and David Gauke in Downing Street.
Several waverers were approached personally by the prime minister - with one MP saying they had received two phone calls from Johnson just minutes before the vote. Some senior Conservatives appeared stunned at the extent of the rebellion, with cabinet ministers approaching MPs en route from the voting lobbies to ask if they had rebelled.
Some Conservatives have privately voiced serious concern about the future of the party and unease at removing the whip from such long-serving MPs.
On Tuesday a number of the party's leading centrist voices, including Justine Greening, Nicholas Soames and Alistair Burt, announced they would stand down at the next election, and the former justice minister Phillip Lee defected to the Lib Dems, with most saying they saw no future in the party and condemning its direction under Johnson.
Rory Stewart, the former international development secretary, also joked as he won GQ's politician of the year that it came on the night he had ceased to be a politician.
"If anything, those threats have made it more difficult for MPs to back down, because if you decide to back the government in that circumstance, you are effectively saying you value your career over your principles," one MP said.
Sam Gyimah, the former universities minister, wrote in the Guardian: "For MPs like myself, Downing Street has framed the choice as: speak your mind or keep your job."
The rebels were later supported by Ruth Davidson, the recently resigned leader of the Scottish Tories who had transformed the Scottish Conservative party into a force at the polls, increasing the number of Tory MPs from 1 to 13. Her loss alone, could end all Scottish representation for the Tory party.
Meanwhile, The Right Honourable Jacob Rees-Mogg, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord President of the Council, has accused the rebels of "stunning arrogance".
Boris Johnson has now indicated that his next move is to seek a general election and he challenged Jeremy Corbyn to support such a move and provide the required two thirds majority in Parliament. Corbyn has indicated he may do so once the anti no-deal bill has passed. Many opposition MPs are concerned that Boris might delay any election until after Brexit day if he is empowered by Parliament to call it. Although he has promised to call the election for October 15th., the choice of election day is ultimately in his gift.
Given that Tory Lords have threatened to filibuster the anti no-deal Bill in the Lord's to prevent it being passed, it could be that Johnson decision to prorogue Parliament will back-fire on him. After all, Parliament can't vote for a General election if it is prorogued.
An early general election poses severe difficulties for the rebels as the UK's FPTP system makes it almost impossible for independent and smaller parties to win seats. Some of the Tory rebels have indicated they will retire at the next election, and others may end up joining the Liberal Democrats, a party which is looking more and more like the conservatives-in-exile.
Recent opinion polls have given the Conservatives a 10% lead over Labour and Nigel Farage has indicated his party may not stand against the Conservatives in order to maximize the pro-no deal vote. Based on current polls, only a Labour/Lib Dem/Green/ChangeUK/Independents/SNP/Plaid Cymru electoral alliance would stand much chance of defeating a combined Conservative/Brexit party set of candidates.
It could prove to be a much more difficult and time consuming task to craft an alliance between several disparate parties and groups and voting traditions than two parties with authoritarian leaders and one over-riding political aim in life.
But if the rebels want to avoid a general election and threat of extinction now, their only option is to support an alternative Prime Minister to head a caretaker administration that would seek a further A.50 extension and perhaps organize a second referendum.. They may still harbour dreams of appointing some "compromise" figure to the role, but the reality now is that Jeremy Corbyn holds all the cards. Not only might he agree to an October General election, but delivering Labour voters would be vital to winning any subsequent referendum.
Having straddled the Brexit divide for so long, Perhaps only Jeremy Corbyn is in a position to deliver a majority for remain by attracting and mobilising Labour voters wary of a Johnson/Farage stitch-up. Oh the irony of ironies - Jeremy Corbyn as a figure of national unity! Boris Johnson hasn't gotten much right in recent times, but he did call the anti no-deal Bill, crafted by a cross-party coalition including the senior Tories Oliver Letwin and Dominic Grieve, as "Jeremy Corbyn's surrender bill". However it is not a surrender by Jeremy Corbyn, it is a surrender to him.