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July 11, 2019

Focus on election timetable, not prorogation...

There are two issues that interest us in UK politics right now - none of which are prominently discussed in the UK media. The first one relates to polling. We could not care less whether the Tories or Labour are in the lead - given that all four main parties are broadly within the margin of error of each other in the polls. The question we would like to see addressed is: how will a credible commitment by Johnson to the Halloween deadline impact the Tory voters’ views on Nigel Farage's Brexit Party? And what would be the impact of Labour adopting an unequivocal Remain position on the prospects of LibDems?

We don’t know about the latter, but at least there is one poll out this morning on the former. A poll by Orb International for the Daily Telegraph claims to show that the Tories could destroy the Brexit Party if they delivered Brexit. There are a number of problems with that poll as well: we are always suspicious when a poll confirms what the person who pays for it wants to hear. The Telegraph is a pro-Johnson paper. The poll also fails to distinguish between two different election scenarios: a pre-Brexit election based on a promise to deliver Brexit on a certain date. And a post-Brexit election, after having delivered Brexit.

What we find informative is a comment from the Johnson team, whose strategy is to debilitate the Brexit Party while betting on the Remain vote being split between Labour and the LibDems. 

There is a lot of huffing and puffing about prorogation this morning. We leave that to the newspapers. A far more likely no-deal scenario is one of an election after the Brexit deadline - with parliament suspended during the campaign.

On this point we noted an authoritative account from two House of Commons staffers, who dug deep into the mechanics of an early election. They concluded that the window for the Commons to force an election before October 24 is vanishingly small. 

The outcome of the Tory leadership election will be made known on July 23. Theresa May will probably resign as prime minister immediately and hand over power.

The authors look at two timetables: scenario 1 in which MPs vote on a motion of no confidence after summer recess, scenario 2 where the vote takes place right away.

In scenario 1, the Commons passes a motion of no confidence after its return from the holidays on September 3. MPs could theoretically vote on the no-confidence that day, but Jeremy Corbyn would have to request it on July 25, the last working day before the holidays. 

Say that happens. Vote occurs. This is followed by a mandatory 14 day period, starting at midnight after the vote. If the government loses that vote as well, an early general election would happen unless parliament votes for someone else. It is the prime minister who advises the queen on the election date. The earliest day for the decision to be made is Sept 18. The earliest date for Parliament to be dissolved would be Sept 19. Dissolution must happen 25 working days before polling day. So if the prime minister advises an election on October 24 - the earliest possible election date under this schedule - parliament would be dissolved by September 19. It is also the last Thursday before the scheduled Brexit date.  

This means: this route requires Corbyn to request a vote of no confidence on July 25, and Boris Johnson to recommend the earliest possible date. We are asking: could he not choose October 31 itself? Brexit day? If you really wanted a no-deal Brexit, losing a vote of no confidence, and holding a Brexit day election, this is a far more reliable way to accomplish it than prorogation. The election timetable is in the hands of the prime minister.

Under scenario 2, the House of Commons manages a no-confidence vote before the recess. There would then be more time for a pre-Brexit election, either September 19, or 26. In practice the UK would have no parliament until then.

An alternative procedure would be a request by Johnson to hold early elections - which would require a two-thirds majority. This would obviate the need for the 14-day period, and would enable elections to be held in September or October, depending on when that process is triggered.

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July 11, 2019

...and not on Darroch either

Yesterday’s resignation by Sir Kim Darroch, the UK ambassador to the US, was inevitable: after the leaked memo, there was no way that he could continue to do his job. Diplomacy is not a question of loyalties. It is about representing the interests of your country by maintaining effective communication channels. Darroch was clearly no longer able to do this.  

We noted a report in the FT citing unnamed civil servants who quoted Darroch as accusing Boris Johnson of throwing civil servants like himself under the bus. We find it unusual for a senior civil servant to have manoeuvred himself into such a position. The Trump memo sounded like a rant, in tone very much of the kind you read in the media or social networks. Should an ambassador in Washington not focus his analysis on how to game the system? And should he let himself be quoted on a comment on Boris Johnson? 

The media are clearly on the side of Darroch here - the journalist’s new hero and useful idiot as a way to get at Johnson. What the media should take note of is that the affair will hardly cost Johnson any votes. We agree very much with Andrew Neil, who was astonished that nobody went after Johnson in the TV debate with Jeremy Hunt over his handling of the imprisonment of a British woman in Iran. The Darroch affair is not a lethal bullet. Johnson’s ignominious role’s in the Iran affair might have been.

Johnson will probably draw the same conclusion as Trump did. Twitter is more powerful than all the media combined. Just as when Trump blasts the “failing New York Times”, Johnson will command a unique position in the UK - having been a journalist himself.

We think that the main outcome of this vastly blown-up affair will be an acceleration of the media’s loss of political influence. Smart journalism should not play the man, but the politics.

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