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August 08, 2019

A poll on October 31?

We noted a comment from Sebastian Payne in the FT, according to which the strategists inside Number 10 are mulling the possibility of an election on October 31, which is a Thursday, or November 1. We were amused to read a tweet claiming this date would be the sweet spot: Boris Johnson would have pushed us over the cliff but we would not have landed yet.

The trouble with elections a week or two weeks later is the uncertainty caused by severe disruptions from a no-deal Brexit. We have no idea how disruptive it will be. The government’s own intelligence seems to be that the process is manageable, but still disruptive. So it would make sense to pick an election day after Brexit has happened, but before the disruption sets in. If elections were held on October 31, the winner would not be installed until November 1 at the earliest. So, even if the Tories were to lose the election, the new prime minister would not be able to reverse Brexit. We think that this might even suit Jeremy Corbyn, who does not want to fight a Brexit election either.

The main news development yesterday was Labour's insistence that they would only countenance a government of national unity if led by Corbyn. To that end, shadow chancellor John McDonnell is enlisting the help of the SNP. In turn, he promised to support what the SNP wants the most - a second Scottish referendum. The LibDems categorically ruled out supporting a Corbyn-led minority government. So unless something shifts, the idea is dead in the water. 

The increasingly desperate MPs who spend their whole lives plotting how to stop a no-deal Brexit are now considering other parliamentary strategies - to force a delay in the parliamentary schedule of the early autumn break. The idea is to give time for legislation to draw up a new request for an extension. We have argued before that such legislation is futile for a number of reasons, if only because it does not bind the European Council. That process would meet serious practical, legal and political obstacles. 

And finally, as an aside, we see the old revolutionary Marxist coming out in McDonnell. He said yesterday: if Boris Johnson were to lose a vote of no-confidence, he would personally send Jeremy Corbyn to Buckingham Palace "in a taxi". Upon which Corbyn would demand that the Queen appoint him prime minister. The Tories are screaming coup d’etat. Will they send tanks to protect the Queen from Corbyn?

This story is telling us two things: the British have not entirely lost their sense of humour; and they are confused about their constitution. For us the situation is clear because we have read the Fixed Terms Parliaments Act. It overrides all the previous constitutional gunk, by setting out a clear procedure of what happens when a prime minister loses a vote of no-confidence. The FTPA is as clear as Article 50, and yet not much read and not much understood. Our advice is to trust the lawyers on this: under the UK’s constitutional law, as it is today, it is not possible to stop a no-deal Brexit through procedures outlined in the FTPA, except in case an alternative prime minister commands a parliamentary majority. It is as simple as that. 

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