September 24, 2019
Corbyn’s sweet victory, and why it matters
The whole UK media is gearing up for the Supreme Court’s ruling this morning. But, important as the ruling on prorogation may be in the discussion about the future of the British constitution, it is unlikely to have much of a direct impact on Brexit itself - just like prorogation itself. Prorogation did not stop the Benn extension legislation from passing in record time. And, even if the Supreme Court were to rule in favour of the government, parliament will still have time to ratify a withdrawal agreement, or launch a vote of no-confidence in the prime minister, before Brexit. We cannot think of a single Brexit outcome that is critically influenced by procedural and legal arguments.
What is harder to ascertain is the indirect political effect. If the Court were to rule that the prime minister lied to the Queen, there would be calls for his resignation. There might be further Tory MPs ready to desert a sinking ship. A vote of no-confidence could ensue. There are many other scenarios. One scenario is that the Court rules against the government, the MPs return, and Johnson prorogues again.
Yesterday’s Labour Party conference is most likely a more important political event than a Supreme Court ruling on a quaint technical procedure. The party voted to support Jeremy Corbyn’s view to enter the election campaign with no firm position on Brexit, but promising to hold a second referendum six months after coming into power. The party conference defeated three Remain proposals by a vague show of hands, but the direction of the vote already become apparent earlier in the afternoon when the party leadership turned the debate into a vote of confidence in Corbyn himself. Labour delegates were signalling yesterday they are behind Corbyn.
We agree with the observation made by Andrew Duff yesterday that it probably does not matter a great deal whether Labour will campaign for Remain. More important is whether Corbyn will allow a free vote on a withdrawal deal. If a withdrawal agreement were to squeeze through parliament with the help of pro-Brexit Labour MPs, that would be it for the Brexit saga. There would be no majority in the parliament to subject the deal to a second referendum. If that happened, both the LibDems and the Labour Remainers would of all a sudden find themselves with no policy. A second referendum makes no sense after the UK has left the EU. A campaign to re-enter will take many years.
Another possible scenario is continued parliamentary stalemate. One indirect effect of Labour's decision yesterday is that it might inadvertently delay an election even after an extension is granted. The extension would be at most for three months. The same argument that stopped the general election in October will still hold then. Remainer MPs have no interest in an election they are unlikely to win. Even if Corbyn wins, the result would be seen as an endorsement of his own eurosceptic position. But we are not sure that the Remainers will be able to mount a united opposition to elections this time. The LibDems and the SNP want elections, and so does Corbyn. A November or December election remains our central scenario. But we also think that there is a possibility that Brexit might be settled beforehand.