The Corner


The Math, the Prime Minister, and the Speaker

Tellers announce the results of the vote on Brexit in Parliament in London, England, March 13, 2019. (Reuters TV via REUTERS )

One man’s problem of Parliamentary arithmetic is another’s opportunity, at least in Brexit.

There was no Parliamentary majority for Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement.

There is no Parliamentary majority willing to withdraw the U.K.’s Article 50 notice and cancel Brexit outright.

There is no Parliamentary majority for having another referendum or able to agree on what that referendum might be.

There is no Parliamentary majority that would vote affirmatively for a no-deal Brexit at this point (even if previous votes created this scenario as a default).

There is no Parliamentary majority willing to make Jeremy Corbyn a caretaker prime minister until the other questions are sorted out.

To make the threat of No Deal more credible to Europeans, new prime minister Boris Johnson drastically shortened the time at which opponents of No Deal could organize to force him to give it up, even as a threat.

Essentially, the PM is leveraging  the lack of a pro-Corbyn majority, and the lack of a no-Brexit majority, to make No Deal look more credible. In the game of chicken with the European Union, he has ostentatiously unscrewed the steering wheel to signal to the negotiators on the other side that Parliament can’t jerk the wheel at the last second.

Well, that has infuriated John Bercow the occasionally scandal-plagued Speaker of the House, who is decidedly and dismissively anti-Brexit. He seemed confident until recently that there was no Parliamentary majority for any Brexit on offer, which could mean that eventually the whole thing will have to go. But now he is looking to take unconstitutional means to stop the prime minister, namely, he is looking to break precedent and give MPs the power to score the steering wheel back in, and force the PM to request or accept another extension on the October 31st deadline. In a sense the speaker is seeking to use an anti-No Deal majority to bring about a No Brexit outcome that also doesn’t have full and express Parliamentary support.

And this bonfire of precedent is brought about by the fact that the referendum result created a democratic mandate to leave the European Union, but it did not create a sovereign Parliament with a majority of MPs truly committed to it, whatever their election manifestos claimed.

It’s quite thrilling to watch, at least.

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