Vote my way or start updating your LinkedIn profiles: that’s Boris Johnson’s message to would-be Conservative rebels tonight. He’s vowed never to seek an extension to the Article 50 process and has pledged to go to the country instead — 14 October is the allotted date, the first time a British election will be held on a Monday since the move to single-day elections in 1918.
Coupled with his pledge to remove the Conservative whip from any MP who votes to take control of the legislative timetable, it means that to vote against the Tory party whip is to end your parliamentary career.
The bad news for Johnson is that the number of Conservative MPs who a) oppose no deal and b) are standing down anyway is already bigger than his majority. Justine Greening has this morning joined Guto Bebb, Richard Harrington, Oliver Letwin and Ken Clarke among the ranks of retiring. Remember that three is the point when the majority is wiped out on paper, seven and above is the danger zone where it is not guaranteed that opposition rebels going the other way will bail out the government, and once a rebellion clears 15 it is all-but-guaranteed to pass on no deal issues.
Remember that there aren’t that many opposition MPs who support no deal: even longtime committed Leavers like Frank Field oppose this option. Johnson’s speech offered very little to Labour MPs who might want to vote against an extension. It puts Labour MPs in the position of having to vote against an election and for the man who prorogued parliament with their own reselection processes looming.
On the rebel side, the bill to seek an extension has been well-drafted: it can’t be frustrated by an executive looking to exploit loopholes but it has been drafted to reassure nervous Labour MPs in heavily Leave constituencies. If tonight’s vote to seek an extension can’t pass in these circumstances, then it never will.
But if it can, we all better hope that Mansfield is nice in October.