Frankly, it’s been an astounding week in British politics. Boris Johnson, supported by his hardline Brexiteers, affirmed his plan to push forward with Brexit on the 31st October even without a deal. His decision to prorogue Parliament was met with controversy – with House of Commons Speaker John Bercow declaring it a ‘constitutional outrage’.
Johnson is now facing a war against Parliament, with politicians opposed to No Deal launching a legal campaign to wrestle control back from the PM. His response to Tory rebels was to threaten them with having the party whip withdrawn – barring them from standing at the next general election. Johnson said he would respond to the rebellious Commons vote to take control by bringing forward a motion for another general election.
But in the last 24 hours we have seen enough Conservative MPs defect to take away Johnson’s majority, including some big Tory names: Sir Nicholas Soames, Philip Hammond and Kenneth Clarke to name a few. The moment MP Phillip Lee crossed the floor to sit by the Liberal Democrats was met with both cheers and boos but it was obvious that the Tory party is being shaken to its core.
Ex-justice secretary David Gauke argued that there was a point where ‘you have to judge between your own personal…and the national interests, and the national interests have to come first’. This argument goes much, much deeper than party lines.
These defectors will have had more of an impact than the likes of Anna Soubry joining Change UK. Kenneth Clarke has been a Tory MP since 1970, held most of the biggest posts (Chancellor, Home Secretary and Health Secretary for starters) and has long been pro-EU. His departure will raise a lot of flags for the more moderate, socially liberal Conservatives and force Johnson supporters to answer a lot of difficult questions. Clarke attacked Johnson’s cabinet, describing it as ‘the Brexit Party, rebadged’. Indeed, Nigel Farage supported the expulsion of Tory rebels, saying it would be ‘an act of real leadership’.
We are now finding out just how far Johnson will go to push through Brexit. For all his criticism of Theresa May he is giving her a run for her money in terms of leadership failures and loss of support. Whilst hardliners like Jacob Rees-Mogg will almost certainly support him to the bitter end, he may continue to lose Tory MPs as the leave date gets closer.
Labour has rejected calls for a general election unless No Deal is taken off the table. This seems unexpected since they have repeatedly challenged Johnson to face off in the polls but it makes sense during this turbulent time. By rejecting a general election, Labour will force the PM to follow through with his threat of a no-deal Brexit – this will leave him vulnerable to legal challenges brought through the courts.
It’s hard to predict what will happen next as the political upheaval continues. The defection of such big Tory names will certainly ruffle some feathers and may persuade others to cross the floor. But if Johnson is determined to cling to power he will be supported by the most fervent Brexiteers. And there’s still the fact that a large population of the country will still want to leave the EU regardless of deal or no deal. It’s difficult to juggle this with the increasingly dire consequences being touted as a result of a potential no deal. The one thing it is safe to say is that the news will continue to move at this breakneck pace for at least another few months.