Though the Tory Government managed to get Commons agreement to allow the revised Brexit deal to go forward in parliament Labour and the rest of the opposition combined to reject the Prime Minister’s plan to fast-track it. Johnson clearly cannot keep his pledge to take Britain out of the European Union by the end of the month and the ball is, once again, in the European court. They are, almost certainly, going to extend Britain’s departure date by three months. But what comes next is anyone’s guess.
Johnson wants a snap general election but that ceased to be the Prime Minister’s gift when the Tories signed up to the Five Term Parliament Act to keep their Liberal-Democrat allies quiet in 2011. An early general election now can only be called if a two-thirds of the House of Commons agree – and Labour will not consider it until the “no-deal” option is ruled out altogether.
Some Tory MPs are arguing for a short new motion specifying the date of an early election that could be passed by a simple majority. But Johnson is not likely to heed them as this could lead to amendments like lowering the voting age to 16 that the Tories believe would favour Labour’s chances. The third option is for Johnson to call for a vote of no confidence in his own government which would not only need Labour support to succeed but would open the door to a combine opposition forming an alternative “national unity” government – which it could do now that it has the numbers to do it.
Maybe that was discussed when Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, held private talks with Boris Johnson this week. We don’t know because both sides say nothing was agreed when they met.
Some Leavers say the Johnson’s deal is the best Brexit we’re ever going to get. But it’s not. Johnson’s rehash of Mrs May’s “Chequers Plan” may have resolved the Irish “backstop” question by limiting Britain’s future relations with the EU but it’s not the clean break needed to restore the country’s independent economic life.
The Remainers, on the other hand, could have accepted Mrs May’s “Brexit in Name Only” plan but they didn’t. They’re certainly not going to embrace the watered-down version Johnson’s drawn up.
They don’t want Britain to leave the EU under any circumstances. From the start they’ve campaigned for a second vote – a “people’s vote” that would reverse the historic decision to leave in 2016 with a convincing majority and legitimise Britain’s continued membership of the EU. They need a “national unity” government or a tame Labour coalition to pave the way.
The first option can only realistically happen if all the opposition close ranks around Corbyn. Though horse-trading between Labour and the other opposition parties and the Tory rebels has begun there clearly is still no consensus around the Labour leader.
The second one only works for them if the result is a hung parliament that would lead to a Labour government dependent on the Remainer votes of the Lib-Dems and the Scottish and Welsh nationalists to remain in office.
Amidst all this uncertainty one thing is clear. The initiative is now in the hands of a shadowy cabal of Remainer politicians and neither Johnson nor Corbyn can do anything about it. But workers can by building the movement to sweep Labour back into power on a programme to end austerity and empower the unions to raise the standard of living of every worker across the country. It can and must be done!