Newspaper front pages aren’t quite the force they once were: whenever a political event occurs, ministers and their advisers will know what the judgement of the commentariat is almost as soon as the commentariat can write it. Yet there’s still that moment of hushed anticipation when you receive the papers in the morning.
It isn’t too hard to imagine what they will be like tomorrow. The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision that Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament was unlawful will only deepen the divide that has torn through this country for the last three or four years.
The Remain press will rejoice in their victory and clamour for Johnson’s resignation, while the Leavers will call cold treachery - Brexit Party MEP John Longworth has already railed in The Telegraph against the ‘Usurper Parliament’, backed by a ‘politicised judiciary’, in ‘collusion with a foreign power’, against the ‘will of the people’.
This is a terrifying moment in our democracy. Anything could happen. Johnson has said he will abide by the ruling (not that he has much choice) allowing Parliament to be recalled, but he’s also still saying that the UK will leave the EU on October 31, come what may, despite there now being a law demanding he ask for an extension rather than allow a no deal.
Indeed, there’s no guarantee the PM will even get to October 31 - it is possible that he will be ousted by a House of Commons accusing him of misleading the Queen and acting unlawfully. The regular means of doing this would be through a vote of no confidence, although some, such as Plaid Cymru’s Liz Saville Roberts, have called for him to be impeached.
Maybe Johnson will throw Dominic Cummings under the metaphorical bus to make his escape, or maybe he’ll dare his opponents to finish him off with a no confidence vote, making himself a martyr to Brexit, betting all on the idea that the uneasy alliance between Jeremy Corbyn, Jo Swinson, Ian Blackford and Oliver Letwin would fall apart if the doors to Downing Street were open before them, and that he would win in the ensuing general election on the backs of the 'people vs Parliament' narrative Cummings has been relentlessly cultivating.
Before the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, an election would have been the natural way to break this impasse, but now it’s not so certain. The rebels who control the Commons are unlikely to countenance a general election until they’ve eliminated the threat of a no deal, yet they aren’t willing to call a referendum in the absence of a deal they could put on the ballot paper.
The PM still insists that a deal is possible in the next three or four weeks, though brinkmanship alone surely won’t achieve it. And without a deal, or an election, or a referendum, Boris Johnson remains a hostage in high office, a situation from which you can be sure he will try aggressively to extricate himself.
While businesses worried by the prospect of a no deal may be glad that the country’s top judges have affirmed the right of Parliament in law to control when, how or even if the UK leaves the EU, it’s hard for me to see an actual solution to the impasse, let alone an amicable one.
The Brexit civil war rages on. We can only hope that the rage that will be expressed in the headlines tomorrow morning will not wash away whatever capacity for compromise is left in Westminster.
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