Another tumultuous week in Westminster
In case there was any doubt, the resumption of business in the House of Commons this week was anything but normal. Boris Johnson’s debut as Prime Minister was marked with defeat in all three Brexit votes, leading to the rapid loss of his working majority.
A cross-party alliance of opposition MPs and conservative rebels dealt a significant blow to the Prime Minister’s central pledge to bring the UK out of the EU on October 31st “do or die.” The legislation, if enacted, will require the Prime Minister to seek an Article 50 extension to January 31st in the event that a Withdrawal Agreement is not ratified by October 19th. However, any such request is likely to face significant opposition amongst certain EU member states, most notably French President Emmanuel Macron.
The price of Commons defeats were not just felt by the PM. Some 21 Conservative MPs including former Chancellors Phillip Hammond and Ken Clarke had the whip removed after voting with the opposition. The decision has led to increasing tensions within the Conservative party with growing criticism of the approach being taken by Johnson and his inner circle, most notably his Chief Strategist Dominic Cummings.
The decision by the government not to proceed with a filibuster in the House of Lords should see the legislation to block a No Deal Brexit pass through the final stages in the House of Commons on Monday.
It is likely that No. 10 will bring back another motion on Monday, calling for a general election under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act. The opposition parties and a sizeable number of Conservative MPs have so far refused to grant an election until this week’s legislation receives Royal Assent. However, with the bill set to clear the House of Lords today, pressure will mount over the weekend on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to vote for a dissolution of parliament early next week.
The key question now is not if there will be a British general election, but when.