Boris Johnson wants an election. To which Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson have the same answer: sure thing, but let’s put this bill mandating the executive to seek an Article 50 extension into law first.
Why are they doing this? Surely, it won’t matter after an election: if there is a Conservative majority they can simply repeal the Act, and if there is a majority for a Labour or some other government, then they can seek an extension.
The fear that opponents of no deal have is what happens if you get another hung parliament – the result that most polls suggest will happen – in which it is unclear who has the right to govern. It is the sitting Prime Minister who controls when a new Parliament is summoned, and in the event of an inconclusive result Boris Johnson could simply wait out the final days of the Article 50 process.
Now, personally, I think the government’s revealed preference is to avoid no deal: they are nowhere close to being ready for it as far as infrastructure or staffing is concerned, and they were very quick to raise the white flag and ask for an election yesterday. They did that despite having numerous options left in reserve to frustrate the will of the elected House. But were I an MP, would I be sufficiently certain of that to risk letting a no deal happen by mistake? Not on your life.
Isn’t this political awkward for the opposition parties, particularly Labour, who have been calling for an election essentially continually since the 2017 one? Some Labour MPs, including true-blue Corbynites, fear that it might be.
But frankly, anyone who thinks this needs to take a deep breath. Labour and the Liberal Democrats have a clear line on this, and in any case it won’t matter. The government wants an election on 15 October. There is going to be an election on 15 October. Anyone who thinks it is going to be a vote-moving issue that the opposition parties wanted to pass a law before the election was underway – the rights and wrongs of which are already going to be a central issue in that election – needs to calm down.
Won’t this all be redundant if the Conservatives can outperform the polls, or get lucky thanks to first past the post and form a majority government which simply repeals the act? Yes. That’s the major reason to still think the chances of a no-deal Brexit are quite high. But it has nothing to do with the question of how Labour and the Liberal Democrats proceed from here.