With the increasing likelihood of a no-deal Brexit beginning to sink in, political opponents are starting to scramble for ideas about how to stop Boris Johnson forcing Britain to leave the EU without a deal. Here is what you need to know about what went down this week:
Jeremy Corbyn made an exceptional move on Thursday to try and build an alliance to block a no-deal Brexit, calling on the leaders of the Lib Dems, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Greens as well as rebel Tories, to support a temporary caretaker government and call a general election. The SNP, Plaid and Green party confirmed that they were open to talks, but the new leader of the Lib Dems, Jo Swinson, was quick to dismiss Corbyn’s plans as “nonsense”. However, in response to overwhelming pressure from her MPs, Swinson backpedalled on her position, leaving the door open to collaboration with Labour.
Even with the theoretical support of Lib Dem MPs, Corbyn still has an uphill climb in building a coalition large enough to successfully pass a vote of no confidence. Firstly, Corbyn himself remains a divisive figure even within the Labour party, with the never-ending anti-Semitism scandal continuing to damage his standing. Even if some independent MPs are theoretically against no-deal, the prospective of making Jeremy Corbyn prime minister, even temporarily, might stop them from supporting the vote. Corbyn won’t be able to rely on support from Change UK’s five MPs either. Notably, Anna Soubry was not included in the list of party leaders Corbyn’s original letter was addressed to, and she has already ruled out supporting a temporary government led by him.
Also, although some Tory rebels have said they are open to talks, they would face a significant backlash from leadership if they did move to support Corbyn. Johnson has shown that he is not afraid to go after MPs who want to block a no-deal Brexit, even if they are members of his own party. This week saw an escalation in rhetoric from the prime minister, as he accused MPs who are against leaving without a deal of taking part in a “terrible collaboration” with the EU. Johnson was backed up by transport secretary Grant Shapps, who warned Conservatives to “think very, very hard” before crossing the aisle. Given this level pressure, it still seems unlikely that eight Tories can be convinced to risk their political futures in order to stop a no-deal Brexit.
IndyRef round two?
Britain’s impending departure from the EU was not the only controversial exit in the news this week. The looming prospect of a second referendum on Scottish independence was back in the news after Jeremy Corbyn confirmed that he would not move to block another vote if he became prime minister. This comes after John McDonnell, shadow chancellor of the exchequer, told a crowd at the Edinburgh Fringe that Labour would allow a second referendum if requested by the Scottish parliament.
Corbyn’s position on this issue doesn’t come as a surprise to many, as a minority Labour government would be heavily dependent on the support of the SNP to survive for any length of time. However, his statements directly undermine the Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard, who has repeatedly said that a Corbyn-led government would not agree to another referendum in the near future. Leonard now appears to be in open conflict with his own party, and the unexpected resignation of the Scottish Labour’s general secretary, Brian Roy may be a sign that divisions are worsening. After political commentators blamed Labour’s recent underwhelming local election performance on their confusing Brexit position, a muddled message on Scottish independence could be a real liability for them, especially considering a snap election is on the cards.
It’s the economy, stupid
On the topic of unwanted sequels, economists have started to raise the alarm about the increasing risk of another global recession, a decade after the second worst downturn in history. The Office for National Statistics announced on Friday that UK GDP has shrunk for the first time in nearly seven years, news that was widely attributed to Brexit turmoil. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, a key indicator of the US stock market, plunged 800 points on Wednesday, and Germany is widely thought to be teetering on the brink of an economic contraction after a 5% drop in industrial output.
The increasing prospect of leaving the EU without a deal appears to be making investors nervous as it was announced that the UK economy contracted by 0.2% between April and June. The reduction is widely being blamed on a “stockpiling hangover” from companies preparing for the initial Brexit deadline in March.
John Bolton, the White House national security adviser, raised hopes for a strong trade deal with the US on a visit to London this week, but congressional leaders have emphasised that any deal would be dependent on preventing the return of a hard Irish border. Given Johnson’s insistence on removing the backstop from any deal with the EU, it’s a harsh reminder that striking new trade deals outside of the EU may be harder than first thought.
There are also some interesting political implications on the other side of the pond. Despite his low overall favourability ratings, a majority of US voters still approve of the job president Trump is doing on the economy. A recession would be a massive blow to Trump’s re-election chances, especially if it’s attributed to his trade war with China. On the Democratic side, progressive candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders could benefit from a downturn if it results in their message on economic reform resonating with voters.
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