The anti-no-deal-Brexit alliance has agreed on what not to do – but is struggling on everything else

A plan to bring forward the date that Boris Johnson must seek an extension has been put aside, and nobody quite knows what to do should the PM break the law. 

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The circus is in town for the Conservative Party Conference, but the most important decisions are being taken back in London, or rather not taken.

The anti-no-deal alliance has managed to agree on what not to do: mothballing a plan to bring forward a vote of no confidence in Boris Johnson, for fear that it would allow the Prime Minister to ignore the law forcing him to seek an extension during an election campaign.

But it can't agree on much else. It’s put aside plan proposed by the Liberal Democrats to bring forward the date that Johnson must seek an extension because while both the Lib Dems and Labour leaderships fear that they might need more time to counteract any attempt made by Johnson to break the law, they need the votes of pro-Brexit Conservatives and Labour MPs who want to give Johnson a chance to make a deal.

And they can't agree, either, on what to do in the event that Johnson does break the law. The Labour leadership maintains that it has an alternate candidate for PM, thanks very much; his name is Jeremy Corbyn. It is reluctant to break the taboo that the identity of a Labour PM is up for grabs at any point in coalition negotiations. But there is no prospect of renegade Tories or the former Labour MPs sitting as independents voting to put Corbyn in Downing Street, which is why the Liberal Democrat leader, Jo Swinson, has repeatedly called for Another Candidate to seek an extension.

In the end, whether we get a no deal may not come not down to the decisions of the MPs opposed to it, but to two different groups – the Palace, which will be weighing up whether or not it should simply sack a prime minister who refuses to obey the law, and the top layer of the government, where a fierce debate is raging over whether or not Johnson can survive seeking an extension to the Brexit process.

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. He also co-hosts the New Statesman podcast.

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