Is an election really the route to breaking the Brexit deadlock?

Another election wouldn’t change the question as far as the European Union is concerned.


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Theresa May is going to announce a detailed timetable for her departure, oh, any day now. The cross-party talks on a resolution to the Brexit crisis between the Conservatives and Labour are set to collapse, oh, any day now.

May has conceded that she will not wait until the withdrawal agreement is ratified by parliament to step down, and that once the Withdrawal Agreement Bill is introduced for its second reading she will set out a timetable in more precise terms.

But, of course, changing the prime minister won’t change the composition of this parliament or the strategic objectives of the European Union, which are integral to why the withdrawal agreement is the way it is.

If you control the executive, you can, as it stands, prorogue parliament and simply wait for no deal to happen by default – but even no dealers accept a no deal without planning is one that would be a disaster. They want a “managed” no-deal exit, and if you want a managed no deal you need a British parliament that is willing to legislate for it, and we don’t have one. The idea is gaining ground and respectability in the Conservative Party but it doesn’t make it any more achievable, whether here at home or with the EU27.

So, an election? The fear that one is inevitable is the biggest argument for and against Boris Johnson’s leadership bid that you hear from Conservative MPs, sometimes from the same Conservative MP. On the one hand, if an election is inevitable, Johnson’s credentials as a winner are second-to-none (in the minds of a lot of Tory MPs at least). On the other, an election is high-risk and Johnson’s Brexit position makes it unavoidable.

But another election doesn’t change the question as far as the European Union is concerned, and, barring a landslide majority, any parliament is either going to be beholden to Brexiteers who oppose the withdrwal agreement on the grounds it isn’t Brexit enough, and Remainers who want to put the question back to the people.

So what will break the deadlock? Small wonder that the joke in Whitehall, in Westminster and in European diplomatic circles is that Brexit will go the way of Turkey’s accession to the European Union: still technically an ongoing process, still something that is of great importance to various political actors, both in Turkey and around the EU: but not something that looks likely to happen any time soon.

This blog originally appeared in Morning Call, our free daily guide to all the news you need to know from around the world, subscribe here.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.