The Brexit Update, 4 September 2019

By the time you read this, it’ll be out of date–British politics are moving at the speed of a slow-motion train wreck–but here’s what I can tell you as of 7 a.m., British summer time (which isn’t a season but the time Britain goes by in the summer):

Yesterday, one lone MP resigned from the Conservative Party and joined the Liberal Democrats, and that was enough to lose the Conservatives their majority and make Boris Johnson the leader of a minority government.

That happened not long after Johnson announced that he would boot out (okay, effectively boot out, but let’s not get into that) any Conservative MP who voted against him. Last night, twenty-one of them did. At that point he became the leader of a government with a significantly smaller minority.

What they voted against him on was–damn this is hard to explain sensibly. Normally, the government has the power to set the agenda for the House of Commons, but the Commons can occasionally seize control of the agenda, and that’s what it did. This will allow the Commons to debate a no-deal Brexit today. 

When he lost the vote, Johnson said he’d call for an early election, but he needs the backing of two-thirds of the MPs for that to happen. Since a majority of MPs would be happy to drown him in the Thames, why wouldn’t they support a new election? Because Parliament shuts down for twenty-five days before the election, and Johnson would get to choose the date of the new election. If he chose his timing well, he could lock Parliament in a broom closet, withdraw from the European Union, and hum “Rule Britannia” while they pound on the door and yell, “Let me out!”

So although Labour’s been screaming for an early election, they’re against this one unless a no-deal Brexit is ruled out–which it won’t be. 

There are two ways around the need for a two-thirds majority:

First, the government calls for an election using the words “notwithstanding the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.” Then they’d only need a simple majority.

Can they do that, announce that they’re going to call an election ignoring the law governing elections? Apparently so. Do we know how to have fun over here or what?

But, of course, they don’t have a simple majority either. And proposing an election that way would allow MPs to set the election date, so it would lose Johnson his maneuvering room. And the bill could be amended, so Commons could tack on anti-no-deal wording.

It would also have to pass the House of Lords, so it’s a slower process. 

Second, the government could call a vote of no confidence in itself. 

Yes, seriously. 

If it passed, Johnson would be expected to resign and the Commons would try to agree on a new prime minister, who could ask the EU to delay Brexit. If the Commons couldn’t choose a prime minister in fourteen days (there’s a lot of political arm wrestling, not to mention posturing and an ego or two, involved), that would trigger a new election.

The BBC article that I pulled all that from (it’s the link several paragraphs back) calls that a high-risk strategy for the government. It doesn’t say that the crucial word in all this is expected, as in Johnson would be expected to resign, but it’s not entirely clear that he would, or whether he’d have to. The law’s fairly new and contains a lot of unknowns.

But back to the Commons seizing control of its agenda. If an anti-no-deal bill passes the Commons, which it probably will, the next hurdle is shoving it through the House of Lords, where it will, inevitably, be filibustered and amended. There’s an attempt in the works to set a time limit on debate. We’ll see how that goes.

The Scottish National Party is saying that a fall election would be a great opportunity for Scotland to demand a second vote on independence.


That’s the headline stuff. In smaller print:

  • Scotland’s chief prosecutor has said he wants to intervene in two legal challenges to Johnson’s suspension of Parliament, saying that proroguing Parliament is it’s an abuse of power.
  • Speaking of abuses of power, Johnson’s special adviser, Dominic Cummings–the power, and possibly the brains, behind the throne–fired another special adviser, Sonia Khan, calling armed police to have her marched out of 10 Downing Street. He accused her of being the source of a leak–something she denies. The interesting thing here is that she didn’t work for him. She also didn’t work for Cummings’ boss, she worked for the chancellor, Sajid Javid. And Johnson wasn’t consulted about the firing. Read a few articles and you’ll find phrases like “mafia-style” and “reign of terror.” There are calls for an investigation into the firing.  
  • The government’s set aside £100 million for an information campaign to prepare people for Brexit, even though there are, apparently, questions about whether the government can manage to spend that much in two months. What do they want people to learn for all that money? That we should consult the government’s Brexit website, where they offer some fairly mild advice about travel, business, citizenship, and so forth. With apologies, I relied on a summary for that, not the website itself. The website wants to walk you through only what you need to know, and I bailed out at the point where it asked whether I’m a citizen. I am, but y’know, I just might want to know what happens to people who aren’t. But it’s all okay because the government has placed an order for mugs and T-shirts, so I feel better about it all.

139 thoughts on “The Brexit Update, 4 September 2019

  1. Good morning Ellen,
    when I heard the news this morning I wondered what you would have to say on the subject because I could not understand the implications. So thank you very much for providing them and keeping me in the loop of this incredible conundrum. Who would have thought something like this could actually happen?

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I was living in London during the for-against for joining the Common Market(as it was then known) Some folks got a bit worked-up, but I cannot recall any of the debates, arguments, fights being anything like this. Well, OK Shirley’s Dad was against it and her fiance was all for it and Shirley’s Mum thought it would be good when she and her bingo mates could pop across for a day’s shopping.But other than refusing to give Shirley away at the wedding…

    Liked by 6 people

  3. Here’s a solution: set up a website asking the question again about whether we should leave or remain in the EU. Allow no campaigning, and give just one day for the vote. The resultant majority to remain, which I’m sure there would be, would mean that Brexit could be consigned to the dustbin of history, where it belongs. Then hold a regular general election to vote for a government which might just conceivably want to govern and do all the things that need to be done, but which have got sidetracked.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Quite honestly my “hide in a secret bunker with gin and comfy sofas until the apocalypse is over” idea is getting more and more appealing…

    Either that or Lucy (portergirl) and I should storm parliament and take over…

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Now, I remember to one of the “small” problems of a No-Deal-Brexit. Because then with effect of 1 November all wooden pallets used for transportation purposes will need special certificates and certifications. The whole trade can break down only because of this delicate issue. I doubt that all British enterprises are prepared for this damned regulation applicable for socalled third countries. Chaos guaranteed for long time also for many other reasons in fact on both sides of the Channel!

    Liked by 4 people

    • I have major issues with the EU, but I’m going to go with Yannis Varoufakis on it: Reform the thing, don’t leave it. For one thing, it’s managed to avert any Europe-wide wars since it was formed. We’re far enough away from WWII to forget, on a daily basis, that that’s a possibility. Also, the issues involved in unwinding a country from it are daunting and are going to cause a lot of destruction, without the promise of anything better at the end. And on more limited scale, withdrawing would end a lot of our protections for working condition, human rights, and the environment. They’ve all been seriously eroded, but the good folks pushing for a withdrawal will cheerfully make a bonfire with what’s left. And then sell the NHS to US health care companies.

      Liked by 3 people

      • I know, I know….but it cannot not piss me off for so many reasons.

        I’m still under the influence of what I read today. Serbia and Russia were not invited to the commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the start of World War 2 in Poland. And Germany was (of course). Fact: 6 million Polish citizens killed. Fact: most casualties suffered by Soviet Union (whatever we might think of Putin): 24 mill., the States, the UK and Yugoslavia: 1 mill. (regardless of allying with Russia). I’m fed up with historical revisionism.

        Irrelevant picture, as u would say, but it’s all somehow connected.

        Fucking admit it. Money talks. History is sooo passe.

        (I’m glad we both love Varoufakis. I just started reading him…again. My kinda guy.)

        Liked by 2 people

  6. On the day that the US President congratulated Poland on the 80th anniversary of the Nazi takeover, I thought the day couldn’t get weirder..
    Commons trumped Trump…….

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Are you sure the order wasn’t for “mugs with t-shirts” or what people who aren’t in the Conservative party would call “voters”?
    Every time the politics here in the US makes me think what could be crazier than this? The UK says “hold my tea and watch this”!

    Liked by 3 people

    • I don’t think it should, but really I think the only way out of things is to have a second referendum. More information’s available about what Brexit looks like now,with all its problems. It’s time to ask, are we doing this thing or not?

      Liked by 3 people

  8. Thanks again. The updates help but sounds like an odd way to run a country. Not sure why some people want to live and some want to stay. I will ask google. Maybe google will know. Don’t see how you can join a group of independent states together and make a country that works. Has the ever happened anywhere at all. If so, EU could use that as a model.

    Liked by 2 people

    • When you consider that the 13 colonies considered themselves very separate–states didn’t at the time mean the same as provinces–you can see a bit of a parallel. I don’t want to push it too hard–it’s not a perfect parallel. But the EU isn’t a country, it’s a gathering of countries–a kind of confederation.

      Oh, hell, ask Lord Google. He knows all.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I have spent the day watching Parliament, its brilliant. No one has a clue what is going on, personally I think they need to find Cameron and put him in stocks so I can throw tomatoes at him.

    I am still in hope that May is going to do something as a massive F you to Johnson.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. My email got to your post just as MSNBC broke the news of the vote at 2:45 pm eastern daylight time US You were pretty prescient – and obviously much more to come. As I;ve said before, I;m following the Scots.
    Will we see secessions (again) in the US of A now ? Stay tuned !

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I have been trying to educate myself about Brexit, and the more I read, the more confused I get. The one thing that is clear is that Boorish Johnson instills no confidence. He’s too buffoonish to bring a country together. The other thing that is clear is that Parliament is a lot more fun to watch than Congress. Bottom line, I think Queen Liz needs to smack all involved in the head with the handbags she is never seen without.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The handbag’s probably empty. I’m told she never carries money.

      I agree about Parliament being more fun to watch, because the horror comes with a heavy dose of absurdity. I don’t think Johnson’s at all interested in bringing the country together. The goal, I’m sure, is to split and then appeal to his base. Sound familiar?

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Lucky we have you to summarise for us. Glad I’m not a politician of any sort. The only position I would like in the House of Commons is the lady in the black gown who hands pieces of paper to the speaker after a vote. I think I could handle that.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. This is fascinating and maddening and a bit weird. I did not know why the Commons wasn’t keen on a new election. That makes sense. Good grief, what a mess, but doesn’t Boris deserve it? I’m just not sure the rest of the citizenry do! It’s a bit worrisome. I think economies could go down like dominoes across the world given the right circumstances. But maybe this (and Trump) is just some sort of fantasy, apocalyptic novel. Would anyone believe it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good grief indeed, and I agree, a no-deal Brexit could bring economies down. The reason Commons doesn’t want a new election is that this way of calling one would give Johnson control over the timing, and he’d time it to give himself the power to do what he wants–leave w/ no deal–while they sit helpless. It’s all hopelessly convoluted, but in the context of convoluted British procedures makes sense.

      Liked by 1 person

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