Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg
It’s Johnson’s first weekend as PM. Since he hasn’t had time to do much at all, we get the usual ‘how awful – how wonderful’ reports about his activities, be they about spending money (here and paywalled here) or talking to Macron and Merkel (here). But what about Brexit?
There are a few developments which look a bit like attempts at pot-stirring and creating storms in teacups, such as the saga of Steve Baker’s rejection of a junior post in BoJo’s government or the howl about the Backstop and Northern Ireland. We’ll look at those later. Anther item is speculation about a GE: will he or won’t he? More on that later as well.
First of all though there’s this intervention by the new Leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg. By now we have all learned that there’s none as well versed in parliamentary procedure and conventions as he is, so this is more than just an inconsequential thought experiment.
In an interview with the DT (paywalled, so unashamedly quoted a length) he said:
“There is no way that Parliament can stop Brexit unless there is a vote of no confidence and there is a new government, or the law is changed, but how will the law be changed? All these people who witter on about no deal really don’t want to leave the European Union at all. It’s just code for saying they don’t want to leave and they think the referendum is a mistake. But they are not daring to put down a motion to revoke Article 50, are they? What would happen if Grieve etc took control of the order paper, as happened before Easter? What do they then use that order paper for? Unless they use it to repeal Article 50, which they are not bold enough to say they want to do and there almost certainly isn’t a majority in the House of Commons to do anyway, it doesn’t stop us leaving on October 31. These are the only two ways Parliament could stop no deal – revoking Article 50 or bringing down the Government. The key is that the law has already been passed. We’re leaving.” (paywalled link)
This, as he says, is the Law. Ask your Remain MP what they’re going to do about it?
JRM put another rather delightful cat amongst the pigeons by issuing a ‘Style Guide’. No, that isn’t about how to wear double-breasted suits, it’s about writing – letter writing, to be precise, and it was issued to his new staff. You can find the guide in this report – it is actually rather useful!
Onto the speculation about a GE then: is it or isn’t it the secret weapon in Johnson’s Brexit arsenal? Keep in mind that he’ll probably lose another seat n the by election on Thursday 1st August and his hold on power is getting more precarious.
Thus, from the opposite sides of the Leave-Remain spectrum, the following thoughts are worth keeping in mind. Firstly Nigel Farage who said during his LBC radio show:
“Do you read it, that Barnier isn’t going to give Johnson an inch? I don’t think they’ll give Johnson anything other than small cosmetic changes. That means he will not be able to get a version of that appalling withdrawal agreement through the House of Commons before the 31st October. It is also my view that it is utterly impossible to get a WTO Brexit through the House of Commons given the numbers and the way that MPs feel. Mark my words, there is a general election coming. If you look at some of the people Johnson has placed inside Number 10 to work for him, they are the kind of people who do work on elections rather than being inside an office.” (link)
Arch Remainer Matthew Parris in RemainCentral (paywalled) also looked at the composition of Johnson’s staff at No 10 and comes to the same conclusion. I’ll not bore you with his usual vitriolic guff, well-written as it may be, but this passage seems to support Nigel Farage’s interpretation:
“Dominic Cummings’s appointment this week as a senior aide to the prime minister belies his real influence. Job titles mean little in the hellish environment of No 10. It all comes down to people, and who is trusted and rated at the top. In Mr Cummings’s case the key point is that he will be working alongside Michael Gove, now chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster but in reality, with Cummings, the inner gear wheels of the prime minister’s policy and implementation team.” (link, paywalled)
Parris, focussing on the Gove/Cummings combo, is careful not to emphasise that these would be the two main players preparing the government for that snap GE but is insinuating it.
Cummings is a controversial figure. The latest attempt by the Westminster Village dwellers to find sticks with which to poke the Johnson Cabinet is to set him up against the ERG which Cummings is said to loathe. Thus we get this interpretation by Ben Kelly (who he? A writer for the DT), an unreconstructed supporter of May’s WA:
“Rifts are already developing between the new prime minister and the ERG faction that backed his leadership bid. ERG Chairman Steve Bakerturned down a ministerial role and told Mr Johnson that a job in the Brexit department would have left him “powerless”. The ERG has reportedly interpreted the offer as a deliberate snub. They blamed Dominic Cummings, the former head of Vote Leave and now the most senior adviser in Downing Street – who once described the eurosceptic group as “narcissist-delusional subset” and a “metastasising tumour” that needs to be “excised from the body politic”. (paywalled link)
Goodness me – Cummings really said that? Hang him! Controversial figures who say hurty things are not allowed! That is how ridiculous our political discourse has become. More:
Mr Baker issued an ominous warning on Twitter that “disaster awaits us” unless Britain left the EU on October 31st. Meanwhile, Mark Francois made the ERG position on Brexit perfectly clear on Newsnight; even without the backstop, they will not vote for the Withdrawal Agreement. […] for the ERG only a ‘no deal’ Brexit will do. In seeking the severance of all treaties on October 31, they seem determined to make the perfect the enemy of the good.” (paywalled link)
It looks as if we’re going to get a warmed-up re-run of the same old arguments about the May WA and about the Backstop. Like ruminants the Remainers simply cannot stop re-chewing the cud. Here’s another example, in a slightly different guise but recognisable as a “Project Fear” example:
“The British government will need to introduce legislation to impose direct rule on Northern Ireland in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, incoming Johnson administration ministers are being warned. The highly politically toxic move would pit the Johnson administration squarely against the Irish government and effectively suspend the Good Friday Agreement, with Belfast ruled from London. However, without the imposition of direct rule, officials and experts warn that Northern Ireland, whose devolved government collapsed in January 2017, would become essentially ungoverned as it faced its biggest crisis since the signing of the 1998 peace deal.” (paywalled link)
Against those – usually nameless – experts, here’s, inevitably, JRM:
“Jacob Rees-Mogg, the newly appointed Leader of the House of Commons confirmed that the issue was under discussion – but declined to rule out the move.“That is not necessarily correct that legislation is needed to impose direct rule. I had a meeting on that earlier and that is not necessarily correct but that is not a definitive answer,” he told The Telegraph […] “This is speculation and I think it is unlikely to be necessary but I am not giving a guarantee that it is not necessary.” (paywalled link)
That’s how to hedge political bets by masterful use of the English language! However, we can expect more such speculations and ‘Project Fear’ scenarios during the coming weeks.
In their zeal to keep us ‘In’, the Remainers have not addressed the simple fact that the Backstop as it stands is forever, that there’s no escape clause, that it cannot be changed or revoked. Eminent lawyers, even the past and current Attorney General of the mellifluously booming voice, Mr Cox, have said so, to no apparent avail
Therefore ask your Remain MPs and any Remain adversary in these coming weeks why it is that they support such unprecedented clause. Ask them to give you reasoned chapter and verse. That means of course that you and we have to