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24 September 2019updated 23 Jul 2021 9:07am

Are we heading for a government of national unity?

A lot of negotiation would have to take place behind the scenes to get close to making it a reality.

By Ailbhe Rea

Now that the Supreme Court has ruled the suspension of parliament unlawful, are we heading for a government of national unity?

Let’s start with the basics. For a government of national unity to take power, MPs would need to hold and win a vote of no confidence in the government. That would then trigger a 14-day period in which MPs could form an alternative government, with a majority behind them. Otherwise, a general election would be called.

MPs are set to return to parliament tomorrow at 11.30am, where they could in theory table such a motion. But that looks unlikely, simply because the fundamentals from before prorogation have not changed. 

Labour still does not want to hold a general election before 31 October, because it still perceives there to be a threat of no-deal Brexit on that date; Boris Johnson only has to implement parliament’s mandate to seek an extension on 19 October, if a deal hasn’t been passed, and Labour fears that Johnson will find a way not to do that. The party also knows that it would hugely undermine its election campaign and standing if Jeremy Corbyn were forced to stand aside in favour of another leader of an emergency government, with other opposition MPs looking unlikely to back a government of national unity led by Corbyn. 

The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, are focusing their efforts, like Labour, on calls for Johnson to resign. However one of their MPs, Chuka Umunna, has floated the idea once more of a government of national unity led by Ken Clarke or Harriet Harman, the longest-serving male and female MPs respectively.

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Opposition MPs did manage to unite in sufficient numbers to prevent no deal, but that makes a government of national unity less, rather than more, likely. Beyond stopping no deal, the parties are still divided about what they want and who is suitable to lead. The idea may well be floated further in the coming days, but a lot of negotiation will have to take place behind the scenes for the parties to deem such a move worth it. 

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