12 August 2019 — WSWS
Plans by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government to force through a no-deal Brexit threaten to embroil the UK in a major constitutional crisis.
Tensions within ruling circles are such that the pro-Remain Thatcherite and former defence secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, in a letter to The Times, warned, “If the prime minister refused to respect the normal consequence of losing a confidence vote and if he sought to prevent both parliament and the electorate having a final say on no deal, he would create the gravest constitutional crisis since the actions of Charles I led to the Civil War.
“I have great confidence that the prime minister will ignore the advice of Dominic Cummings. King Charles lost his head by flouting the constitution. Mr Johnson will wish to keep his, while some around him are, clearly, losing theirs.”
Johnson has been reduced to a single seat majority. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has indicated that he will trigger a vote of no-confidence in Johnson sometime after parliament resumes from summer recess on September 3. If defeated, Johnson would normally have 14 days, under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, to win another vote of confidence or face a general election.
Rifkind was responding to comments by Cummings, campaign director of Vote Leave and now a special advisor, that Johnson would not quit but instead schedule a snap general election shortly after the October 31 deadline for the UK leaving the European Union (EU). This would make a no-deal Brexit, without a trade and customs deal with the EU, an accomplished fact. Johnson would then wage an election campaign based on nationalist rhetoric about defending the “will of the people” against Brussels, “treacherous” and undemocratic Remainers in Westminster and the “metropolitan elite.”
Everything Rifkind says about the anti-democratic course being contemplated by Johnson is true. His readiness to defy parliamentary convention is indicative of his belief that Brexit faces major opposition, both in ruling circles and among many working people that he is seeking to bypass.
However, the scheming of the Remain faction of the Tories and their allies on the opposition benches is just as undemocratic. By tradition, a successful no-confidence vote would see the leader of the main opposition party attempt to form a government. Corbyn would therefore have two weeks to secure enough support for a “caretaker” government—based on promises to seek an extension on Article 50, that would delay the UK’s exit from the EU—before announcing a general election with Labour pledged to hold a second referendum.
But a Corbyn government is anathema to the Tory Remainers who are conspiring with Blairite Labour MPs and the Liberal Democrats to form a “government of national unity.” They plan to seek the queen’s approval, through a “Humble Appeal,” for Johnson’s removal.
Dominic Grieve, the former Conservative attorney-general, told The Times that the queen “has sought to keep herself well away from the cut and thrust of politics, but at the end of the day there are residual powers and responsibilities which lie with her. She might have to dispense with [Johnson’s] services herself.”
This too has an historic precedent in Labour leader Ramsay MacDonald crossing the House with 12 other MPs to form a national government in 1931. This paved the way for the savage austerity measures of the “Hungry Thirties” by four successive national governments until the onset of World War II. A new national government would be just as hostile to the interests of the working class, would strengthen the right-wing under Johnson and deepen the dangerous divisions in the working class already sowed by Brexit.