We use cookies to help improve and maintain our site. More information.

September 26, 2019

Could Johnson be headed for an electoral landslide?

The focus this morning is on last night’s bruising exchange in the House of Commons, which had a certain perpetrator-victim quality to it. We believe that Johnson’s rumbustious Brexit-delivery message will ultimately weigh heavier with the electorate than the near-tearful outrages over prorogation, or over his use of the term surrender bill. Johnson is the agent provocateur of modern British politics, very much in the spirit of Donald Trump but with more panache. British opposition MPs and US Democrats have a lot in common.

What we found most interesting last night was Johnson’s outright assertion of what appears to be a paradox to most British observers: that he will simultaneously comply with the Brexit-extension bill and not extend Brexit. 

This assertion is not paradoxical to us. The legislation is well drafted, but the loophole that cannot be plugged by British legislation is the European Council. UK journalists and MPs are mostly ignorant about the working of the European Council. One reported suggestion is that MPs would ask the Royal Courts of Justice to instruct a civil servant to write the extension letter. If they had read Art. 50, they would discover the total absence of any notion of a letter. If Johnson tells the European Council behind close doors that he does not want to extend, the European Council will take that as official policy, not a letter from a civil servant. The UK parliament may be critically misjudging the nature of the European Council and its willingness to collude with a parliament against a sitting prime minister - especially a prime minister who is likely to win the next elections. 

Another noteworthy aspect of Johnson's delivery last night was his attempt to co-opt Labour MPs who are minded to agree to a withdrawal agreement. He will need them if he wants to get a bill passed. 

We heard a suggestion that a withdrawal bill would definitely get a majority if it were accompanied by a pledge for a second referendum. We doubt that very much, since the Conservatives would not support a withdrawal bill under those circumstances. A majority of the recently ejected Tory rebels supports a second referendum, but the total number has not really shifted. There was always a dozen, maybe 20, diehard Tory Remainers, ready to usurp Brexit. Without the party whip, they are more likely to support a second referendum than they might have been otherwise. But their number is not higher than the number of Labour MPs who oppose it. The arithmetic has not really changed - maybe by a handful. The only way for a withdrawal agreement to pass is for the Tories to agree to it almost unanimously, and for a dozen or so Labour MPs to support it.

What about elections? Jeremy Corbyn said yesterday that Labour would agree to a general election once Johnson complies with the Brexit-extension bill. There are Labour MPs who want to frustrate an election at all cost, as they prefer a second referendum instead. If the UK ends up extending, an election is very likely if only because Corbyn cannot afford to wait much longer.

Last night’s exchange in the Commons is a foretaste of what promises to be the ugliest election campaign in British history.

We think the government may formally table a one-off general-election bill to override the fixed-term parliament act. Such a bill would set a firm date for the general election - which can still be held before end-October. If that bill is rejected, Johnson could prorogue the parliament for a second time. His powers to prorogue are not affected by the recent Supreme Court ruling. But he cannot prorogue parliament for longer than five or six days. This is why the Commons are so desperate to amend the Benn bill to bring forward the deadlines - in order not to be caught out by another prorogation.

We are not certain that Johnson is really plotting to circumvent the extension bill. He may simply be bluffing, sidetracking his opponents while he focuses on the bigger picture. 

The one big risk we see for Johnson is that his bruising strategy might unite his opponents. They were all against him yesterday, but we should not underestimate the personal animosity between Jo Swinson, the LibDem leader, and Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn will not agree to a government of national unity except if it is led by him. She rules that out. The SNP is no friend of Johnson, and would support a government of national unity, but has its own agenda. We don’t want to rule out completely the possibility of a government of national unity, especially if Johnson were to push the process towards a no-deal Brexit.

Being displaced by a government of national unity would not necessarily be the worst for Johnson. It would get him off the hook on extension. And it would forcefully underline his message of Brexit betrayal and surrender. He wins either way.

Show Comments Write a Comment

September 26, 2019

Macron's conquest of public opinion over pension reform

Emmanuel Macron is good at turning hostile audiences around. Will he manage to do that again when he launches a debate over the pension reform tonight? 

The pension reform is not formally on the table, and yet the social mobilisation against it is gaining momentum. The trade unions battle their corners in the current extended-consultation phase. The RATP underground already announced an unlimited strike, starting October 5, while others are preparing their climax for the end of the autumn. Memories of 1995 come to mind. Then an unlimited trade unions' strike forced the government under Alain Juppé to give up on pension reform as public opinion was with the trade unions. 

This time, Macron decided to go into the battle for public opinion himself, by relaunching the grand débat. The earlier grand débat basically rescued Macron from the gilets jaunes and their outlandish demands. But this time it is about one concrete reform proposal and there is not much the government can put on the table to soften the deal. After the grand débat Macron offered €9bn in tax cuts to boost households' purchasing power. But the pension system has its own financial problems and cannot compensate the losers. So, what can Macron offer instead? Will his authority be enough to convince public opinion to back his reform? Will it be enough for him to play public opinion against the trade unions? 

The French government is currently playing for time, emphasising the need for consultation and wary of any signs of social unrest. A proposal isn't likely to be ready before the end of the year. Until then the scope and details of the reform are up in the air, to be contested, and with them the prospect of Macron can achieving a feat that his predecessors could not: a fundamental pension reform, unifying 42 pension regimes into one.

Show Comments Write a Comment

September 26, 2019

Marion Maréchal keeps dream of political comeback alive

Marion Maréchal may no longer be active in politics, but her rare appearances always get a lot of media traction. A recent Elabe poll finds that 30% consider her the best candidate for Marine Le Pen's Rassemblement National at the presidential elections in 2022. It may be too early for the 29-year old, but she keeps alive the dream of her comeback into politics. She has a different idea from her aunt abouot where she wants to stand politically. Le Pen is fishing in the same pond as Jean-Luc Mélenchon, on the left. Maréchal by contrast fancies the reconstruction of the right, centered on the RN. 

Much commented is her regular contact with Eric Zemmour, a popular writer and journalist known for his anti-liberal and anti-immigration positions and his book the French suicide. This Saturday they will appear together in public for the second time. As the right is recomposing itself after Les Républicains' disastrous results at the European elections, there seems to be a clear desire to steal the leadership for the right from LR. Le Nouvel Observateur now speculates whether the two could emerge as a team for the next presidential elections, with either Maréchal or the much older Zemmour offered up as the candidate. 

Show Comments Write a Comment

This is the public section of the Eurointelligence Professional Briefing, which focuses on the geopolitical aspects of our news coverage. It appears daily at 2pm CET. The full briefing, which appears at 9am CET, is only available to subscribers. Please click here for a free trial, and here for the Eurointelligence home page.


Recent News

  • April 25, 2016
  • The death of the Grand Coalition
  • Insurrection against TTIP
  • Juppé to benefit from Macron hype
  • On optimal currency areas
  • Why the Artic region could be the next geopolitical troublespot
  • From a currency to a people
  • June 29, 2020
  • Édouard Philippe - mayor or prime minister?
  • Sir Humphrey, R.I.P.
  • October 17, 2019
  • A dangerous game for the EU
  • After Brexit, get ready for a German EU budget rebate
  • February 04, 2019
  • Watch out for the resurgence in Tory unity
  • The gilets-jaunes' effect on the European elections
  • What did he possibly mean by that?
  • May 25, 2018
  • Rejected by US, Germany is turning towards China...
  • ...and France is turning to Russia
  • UK ties Galileo to security partnership
  • Germans are discovering miniBoTs
  • September 14, 2017
  • Bravo Mr Juncker
  • ... what he said about the labour market
  • ... and what his speech means for Brexit
  • January 05, 2017
  • French Socialist primaries - old wine in new bottles
  • Le Pen's hard ecu
  • Will Tusk get a second mandate?
  • Themes of 2017
  • April 25, 2016
  • The death of the Grand Coalition
  • Insurrection against TTIP
  • Juppé to benefit from Macron hype
  • On optimal currency areas
  • Why the Artic region could be the next geopolitical troublespot
  • From a currency to a people
  • December 02, 2019
  • Will pension reform protests spiral out of control?
  • Malta's PM resigns over murder case
  • April 24, 2019
  • May's final and biggest gamble
  • Will the EP be Brexit's great parliamentary beneficiary?
  • Can Loiseau fight the far right given her past?
  • September 12, 2018
  • It is easy to criticise Chequers but very hard to come up with an alternative
  • February 05, 2018
  • How big is Germany's external surplus, really?
  • Macron's first election test
  • Coeure's endorsement of a fiscal union
  • July 03, 2017
  • Can Greece exit its programme without a credit line?
  • The softening Brexit
  • Macron's state of the nation address
  • November 28, 2016
  • And now what Monsieur Fillion?
  • The inescapable logic of an interim agreement
  • On Germany's foreign policy post-Trump
  • How to lose against the populists
  • April 25, 2016
  • The death of the Grand Coalition
  • Insurrection against TTIP
  • Juppé to benefit from Macron hype
  • On optimal currency areas
  • Why the Artic region could be the next geopolitical troublespot
  • From a currency to a people
  • March 16, 2020
  • Why many of the Covid-19 statistics are misleading
  • September 17, 2019
  • Beware of the diplomacy of humiliation
  • Germany’s climate hypocrisy
  • March 18, 2019
  • May's deal still on the table. Don't rule it out.
  • EPP decision on Fidesz still open
  • On the defeat of liberalism
  • September 21, 2018
  • SPD ministers want to continue grand coalition
  • March 28, 2018
  • The real reason for the sanctions against Russia
  • Wishful thinking: Brexit edition
  • Wishful thinking: Future of euro edition
  • Wishful thinking: Italy edition
  • October 02, 2017
  • Catalonia recalls EU and eurozone instability
  • French trade unions increase pressure over labour reforms
  • Watch out for a political accident in the UK
  • Municipal elections boost Portugal's Socialists
  • April 10, 2017
  • Nein, nein, nein, und nein
  • Sounds like a bad Brexit story, but ain’t
  • On how not to exit the euro
  • October 17, 2016
  • Ceta is dead for now
  • L’après-Hollande, c'est Hollande
  • SPD against Russia sanctions
  • Nissan to join customs union and other fanciful tales
  • April 25, 2016
  • The death of the Grand Coalition
  • Insurrection against TTIP
  • Juppé to benefit from Macron hype
  • On optimal currency areas
  • Why the Artic region could be the next geopolitical troublespot
  • From a currency to a people
  • May 29, 2020
  • Why it is not €500bn
  • Is reshoring the answer to this pandemic?
  • January 22, 2020
  • Erdogan and European Libya diplomacy
  • On the importance of mutual recognition agreements in the Brexit trade talks
  • September 17, 2019
  • Beware of the diplomacy of humiliation
  • Germany’s climate hypocrisy
  • May 10, 2019
  • Target2 debate raises legitimate questions with unsatisfactory answers
  • No more German questions please
  • January 04, 2019
  • Will the AfD become the Dexit party?
  • Romania's corruption problem in the spotlight of its EU presidency
  • August 28, 2018
  • Urban politics and national crisis - the Irish case
  • How anti-semitism became one of the main issues in British politics
  • April 23, 2018
  • More bad news for the SPD
  • Will Theresa May accept a customs union? The Times says yes. We think so too.
  • A comeback for Marine Le Pen?
  • December 21, 2017
  • Catalonia votes
  • A deputy prime minister resigns
  • Will Gibraltar result in another Irish fudge?
  • Blood, sweat and tears
  • August 21, 2017
  • Soft, getting softer
  • Tsipras' chances of a boost
  • On the fallacy of a middle-ground option for the eurozone
  • April 19, 2017
  • Shadows of money
  • Breppe Grillo vs Eurointelligence
  • December 19, 2016
  • Inside the customs union, outside the single market
  • Back to the future in Italy
  • The lessons from Fillon's first gaffe
  • Montebourg - a bit of everything
  • The Maastricht error
  • If Paul Romer is right...
  • August 22, 2016
  • Gold for Brexit
  • EU and Turkey talking past each other
  • Switzerland is the next migrant transit country
  • On the death of neoliberal economics
  • April 25, 2016
  • The death of the Grand Coalition
  • Insurrection against TTIP
  • Juppé to benefit from Macron hype
  • On optimal currency areas
  • Why the Artic region could be the next geopolitical troublespot
  • From a currency to a people
  • June 16, 2020
  • Is Trump preparing for a final propaganda war against Europe?
  • A historic coalition deal for Ireland
  • May 26, 2020
  • French fashion stores - lockdown is one crisis too many
  • An important German supreme court ruling against VW
  • Public scrutiny over lockdown rules
  • May 04, 2020
  • What is and isn't true about the Wuhan lab conspiracies
  • Towards a new government in Ireland
  • April 15, 2020
  • Italy’s coalition disagrees about the ESM
  • March 26, 2020
  • Testing and tracking - a recipe for Europe?
  • Diplomacy and the Wuhan virus
  • March 09, 2020
  • Lockdown measures are not working
  • Will the ceasefire hold in Idlib?
  • February 19, 2020
  • Degrowth isn't enough to stem climate change
  • Is Renzi finished?
  • Welcome to Germany, Tesla
  • February 04, 2020
  • A glimmer of hope on EU/UK trade
  • January 20, 2020
  • The EU in a diplomatic bear hug
  • French pension strikes come to a halt as violence grows
  • Scholz to stick to fiscal surplus in 2021
  • January 06, 2020
  • A decade that started with a bang
  • What to expect of Spain's next government
  • Divide et impera: Macron's pension reform strategy
  • December 16, 2019
  • What the failure in Madrid says about multilateral governance
  • December 02, 2019
  • Will pension reform protests spiral out of control?
  • Malta's PM resigns over murder case
  • November 21, 2019
  • Brussels warns Paris and Rome about not using low interest rates
  • What’s behind Thomas Mayer’s crypto-currency
  • November 12, 2019
  • How the Catalan question poisoned Spanish politics
  • A renaissance for minority governments?
  • November 04, 2019
  • Brexit tactical voting is happening - on both sides
  • Merkel promises 1m charging stations - but doesn't tell us how
  • October 27, 2019
  • German political centre is melting
  • Train drivers in all-out confrontation with Macron
  • Erdogan makes threats again
  • October 21, 2019
  • Philippe to brace for more union protests
  • Greens are the electorates' new favourite
  • October 14, 2019
  • What is Turkey's medium-term game?
  • Germany sabotages EIB climate change policies
  • October 07, 2019
  • What did Conte know?
  • October 03, 2019
  • Goulard - after the grilling in the EP what next?
  • A market mini-crash to take seriously
  • September 30, 2019
  • A pyrrhic victory for Kurz
  • Will there really be UK elections?
  • September 27, 2019
  • Watch out for the shifting politics of Brexit