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July 05, 2019

Why it is difficult to legislate against a no-deal Brexit

The big problem in interpreting UK polls is that the current four-way split reflects uncertainty about the positions of both the Tories and Labour on Brexit. Once positions crystallise during an election campaign, the numbers could change significantly. And, in a first-past-the-pole electoral system, even a small change in the parties' vote shares could have a dramatic effect on seat allocation.

A Times/YouGov poll out yesterday put Labour at 18% behind the Tories, the Brexit Party and the LibDems - in that order. The Tories are recovering their position as Boris Johnson is on course to become the party’s next leader. We think it is possible that he might call immediate elections. This would give him a chance to campaign on Brexit delivery by October - deal or no deal. 

The reason we think early elections are possible is that the alternative options might prove to be even more risky. But clearly, Johnson will only call elections if he believes he can win an outright majority. For the moment, the polls still say this is not going to happen. Getting a firm pro-Brexit majority would probably require some accommodation with the Brexit Party - difficult for both sides.

We also expect that Jeremy Corbyn would position himself more clearly in favour of a second referendum during an election campaign. The prospect of a no-deal Brexit would make this politically easier for him. But, even then, Labour will not be united. The pro-Remain vote will split between the LibDems and Labour - and there is no chance here of an electoral alliance.

What if there are no elections? Newsnight reports that Remainers are plotting legislation in September to rule out no deal. This sounds like a half-baked initiative. What the report made very apparent is that the pro-Remain Tories are pulling back from the threat to support an outright no-confidence motion in the parliament. There was talk about a conditional no-confidence vote - which has no legal meaning.

We do not doubt that a majority in the UK parliament is opposed to a no-deal Brexit. But we are not sure that this majority can assert itself in an effective way because of asymmetric political effects. Many people would end their political careers if they went ahead with this. And Jeremy Corbyn would then most likely become prime minister.

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