It is now 77 days until the UK crashes out of the European Union without a deal. Boris Johnson and his government give all the appearance of desiring this disastrous outcome for our country. A ‘no deal’ Brexit has become a ludicrous ideological litmus test for the Prime Minister, to satisfy 90,000 Tory Party members and Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party. Even if this means torching the economy and people’s jobs and livelihoods with it.
The overriding priority for every Member of Parliament who doesn’t want to see this happen, which is a clear majority of the House of Commons, must be preventing this outcome. Jeremy Corbyn has seized the initiative by writing to other party leaders and influential MPs who oppose no deal. He has offered to form a caretaker government on a “strictly time-limited basis” so that they can “work together in parliament” to “prevent a deeply damaging no deal”.
Constitutionally, Jeremy Corbyn’s position is correct. As Leader of the Opposition, it would be his responsibility to try to form a government if Johnson’s collapses in a vote of no confidence. It is also entirely reasonable to expect the Leader of the Opposition to want to do so. However, it is also unsurprising that the leaders of other parties, and, particularly, the Conservative MPs we would need to form a majority, do not want to see this happen, as it would elevate the Labour leader to the office of Prime Minister ahead of an election that could occur in a matter of months.
But Jo Swinson and the Liberal Democrats are wrong to dismiss Jeremy Corbyn’s letter in the manner that they have. Other party leaders have responded constructively. Even Dominic Grieve, a Tory who definitely doesn’t want to put Jeremy Corbyn in Number 10, has described it as a “serious letter”. Cross-party talks, including Conservative rebels, look set to begin.
There are many questions that need to be resolved to bring about an emergency government, beyond who should lead it. What would be the objectives of the new government? Would a referendum be held before a general election and, if so, what would be the question? How long would it last? How would the day-to-day business of government be managed? Crucially, can any plan command the support of a majority of MPs?
The only way to resolve these questions is through serious, face-to-face, cross-party talks. Parliament returns in 19 days. A no confidence motion would need to be tabled immediately and a plan needs to be in place before then.
With just 77 days to go until we crash out of the EU, the biggest obstacles to stopping ‘no deal’ seem to be personalities and partisan interests. This is not acceptable. The national interest must come first. The country expects it.
Jo Swinson and the Lib Dems might not want to open the door of Number 10 to Jeremy Corbyn, but his letter must surely open the door to a serious conversation. They claim to be the Stop Brexit party. They don’t stand a chance without working with Labour. For the sake of the country, they mustn’t let this opportunity slip away. The consequences of failure don’t bear thinking about.