The Fixed-Term Parliaments Act cannot prevent the fall of the government or the formation of a national unity government
The Fixed-Term Parliaments Act has made it more difficult for a sitting government or even an opposition party to trigger an election.
The former needs 2/3 of the number of seats in the House of Commons and the latter likely needs to at first bring down the government in a confidence vote which does not require the higher threshold of 2/3 of the votes and then wait 14 days at it demonstrates that no one can form a government which commands the support of the House of Commons.
But this misses the point, an election does not have to ensue a vote of no confidence in the May government and its subsequent fall. Instead, another government can be formed showing that it commands the support of the House of Commons.
This can for instance after May’s withdrawal agreement has been defeated, be another Tory government led by a Remainer with support from other party MPs including Labour Remain MPs if they believe that the individual can carry a significant part of his or her own party, reach out across party lines, and lead the country out of this Brexit impasse in a manner which can presented as cross party non-partisan achievement.
This may be possible because many Tory MPs do not want an election whether they are Leavers or Remainers or even former May supporters, and most, leaving aside the leave with no deal Brexiteers, would welcome a way out of this impasse whether in the form of another referendum or further negotiations with the EU resulting in a deal reforming the EU which would then be put to the people or even at the minimum to be able to first ask for an Article 50 extension.
But Prime Minister May has to be brought down if she loses the vote on her withdrawal deal for the simple reason that no solutions (only obstacles) will be brought forward by her if she stays in power including on what the referendum question would actually ask.
Under her there certainly will not be the possibility of a national unity government which will likely be one of the few possibilities of bringing in all of Labour save for a few Labour MPs.
A national government would probably be able to re-enter into negotiations in order to achieve a different type of deal and perhaps a deal that reforms the EU with little opposition from either Brussels or the Member States of the EU.
Based on the referendum result that 48% voted Remain, the manner in which the 51.8% was obtained, that May’s first Brexit government was reduced to a minority, that there is a growing demand for a second referendum as a result of the contents of May’s withdrawal deal and the consequences of a no deal Brexit. That the country is seeking a way out of this impasse, a national government may be able to reach the compromise necessary not so much with the EU but firstly with the country itself and which would then make it difficult for the EU not to entertain.
A reformed EU deal could then be confirmed in a second referendum.
An election is not necessarily the answer: A Labour deal will almost certainly also need to be confirmed in a second referendum
Elections may be possible should the May government fall and within 14 days thereafter no new government be formed demonstrating with a vote of a confidence that it commands the support of the House of Commons.
The only question becomes whether new elections would solve anything?
If Labour forces an election and even if they win a majority we will start the whole process over unless their election manifesto will be much more detailed and clearer than their 2017 manifesto. The idea that they can campaign as they did in 2017 by muddying the waters on Brexit, Single Market access and free movement but still claim a mandate to negotiate a deal which does not have to be confirmed by the people in a second referendum is just not on.
Under such a scenario, not only would the size of the Labour majority and how many Labour MPs would possibly rebel come into play, but if time is of the essence then the House of Lords would be fully within its rights under the Salisbury convention to delay passage and ratification.
Surely we must have learnt over the last two years that Brexit is not only an election manifesto issue when it comes to its delivery.
Any divergence from their election manifesto in reaching their deal will result in the same issues arising and most likely in calls for it to be defeated in another referendum or at the minimum for it to be put to the people.
Labour’s main position on Brexit has been that any deal must protect jobs, the economy, and preserve all of the benefits of the Single Market.
This will certainly require Labour to either have a detailed manifesto or to have their final deal (which cannot only be a withdrawal deal but also an actual trade deal) confirmed in a second referendum as it will require compromises and positions which while preserving the benefits of European Union membership will be unacceptable to hard Brexiteers who have not only been setting the agenda for over two years but creating and controlling the narrative of what must happen with little opposition from the Prime Minister who instead along with most of the Tory party have been legitimising this narrative.
The narrative would have to be reversed and changed as to achieve its stated goals Labour will need to enter into a deal with the EU where we stay in the Single Market with some tinkering on the rules applicable to us such as for instance accepting Free Movement subject to emergency breaks being available in certain circumstances under certain conditions.
Jeremy Corbyn would also need to bargain in order to obtain new rules or clarifications on old ones with respect to the opt outs concerning state aid during economic slow downs or in connection with national interest industries or employment retraining programs which he personally desires. He may be able to make the rules/reforms/clarifications he wants EU wide as he could with the necessary attempts to revise the Common Fisheries Policy in a manner, perhaps, which benefits all of the EU but also perhaps at the expense of accepting the Common Agriculture Policy as is for now.
There would have to be compromise to change the narrative and the end goals in order to achieve Labour’s goals as the alternatives even for a Labour government would either be no Brexit or leave with no deal but again no government is likely to receive the latter two mandates whether by election or default. Hence a second referendum would be needed.
A no Brexit ending, a leave with no deal scenario, or the compromises (whether as part of a reformed EU or future relationship), are all endings which would need to be confirmed in a people’s vote.
An election in itself would not necessarily result in a second referendum being made redundant for Labour.
As for compromises which will result in retained links with the European Union, they are not a result of the people’s will not being respected but after more than two years it is a reflection that the people never gave their authorisation for what May and this generation of Tories are pursuing.
Labour can only become the government by changing the narrative and it can only trigger the elections Corbyn and McDonnell want by also only changing the narrative.
May attempting to cling to power will backfire
May attempting to cling to power will backfire by making the meaningful vote of 11 December a first of two votes If the Prime Minister does not resign after losing the scheduled 11 December vote it will be almost unprecedented.
Brexit has taken up the majority if not all of her time as Prime Minster.
She called an election specifically on this issue and was reduced to a minority.
Now after little compromise or pragmatism and playing the demagogue and banging the drum on ending free movement which she has made the flagship of her Brexit policy for personal reasons only and most likely in order to both vindicate her time as Home Secretary. Her refusal to support David Cameron in his attempt to obtain emergency breaks on free movement (which may have prevented the Leave win), the vote on her withdrawal deal can only be a confidence vote.
Should she lose this vote, she should resign, as even if she comes back to the House of Commons proposing a second referendum, her end goals and the manner in which she will proceed to conduct herself both with the EU in connection with Article 50 and in organising a second referendum, will continue to be steeped in her failed policies of not only the last 2 and 1/2 years but of the last 8 years.
She must go as should many an ideology belonging to this generation of Tories.
John Nucciarone is a Canadian and member of the New York Bar currently living in London. All views are wholly his own.