This sets out a route that could remove everyone’s worst fears in voting no confidence in the current government and get the country through a referendum and allow parties to restore themselves before an early next election later.
After a no confidence vote there are 2 weeks for a new government to form but to have any realistic chance of getting sufficient DUP/Conservative MPs to vote no confidence there would need to be a plan in place before the vote.
How Does It Work Constitutionally
That the PM is a party leader is a matter of convention and practice and doesn’t actually form part of the constitution (in fact parties barely do). The government is formed by the Queen inviting someone with a plausible claim to be able to command a majority in Parliament. In the event of a no confidence vote not overturned within 2 weeks it would likely be the opposition leader that got that opportunity but if they indicated another or it was clear there was another candidate they might get the invite to the palace.
I picture the most likely deal would be for a Conservative PM from the remain wing with support from the Tory middle that understands the consequences of no deal with confidence and supply from Labour (at least the backbenches with tacit leadership support), Lib Dems, SNP etc. The agreement would include an early general election within 6 months after resolving Brexit through.
Initial steps would be to request an extension to exit day in order to run an informed consent referendum.
Why would Labour join?
Labour would need something significant to buy into a deal where they allowed a Tory to remain in government both from an internal politics position and to retain credibility with all in the electorate. While I can’t speak for them the essential offer would be:
- Election by mid 2020 (two years early).
- Suspension of Universal Credit roll out.
- Additional funding for education
- Benefits freeze lift (at least inflation increase.
Additionally it would sort Brexit before they entered power and potentially cause substantial Tory splits.
Why would Tories join?
It solves many of their problems.
In addition to the obvious benefit of getting them past Brexit while handing the responsibility back to the public for whether it happens or not it also keeps Corbyn out of government and enables them to prepare properly for the election.
Having the PM not being the party leader allows a leadership election so they can get a new face in place before the election without damaging the national interest by running a leadership election. They can also argue against the policy of the government and try to extricate themselves from the full blame for the lack of Brexit. Certainly the new leader can come in saying that if they had been in charge Brexit would have happened and it wasn’t their fault. They should have a real chance to win; a new face not directly responsible for the Brexit farce with time to make a case for a new policy position without having the encumbent PM be a lame duck having to keep the plates of government spinning with no power while the leadership election takes place. It might be a good idea for the PM not to run but that would be for discussion in the negotiations or for Tory discussions.
Why would Lib Dems/SNP join?
Primarily to stop Brexit and get the referendum but some may also like to move back into government jobs if the shape of the deal allows.
Complication - Who is the official opposition?
I think it might need to depend on the make up of the governing group and whose backing they had. You might even find that essentially only those with Ministerial roles sit on the Government benches and different groups vote with them on different issues but they retain the confidence of the house on critical issues to pass necessary Brexit legislation and make additional agreed changes.
Alternatively the Tory party might still sit on the government benches and generally support the temporary government while acknowledging the necessity of the PM being someone who has sufficient support in Parliament unlike their leader.
Maybe it could be a non-Corbyn Labour leader, Starmer or Lammy perhaps with some constraints placed on them by Tories providing confidence. Or even a Lib Dem as a neutral option.
Even with a Tory PM there are different possibilities as to whether the government jobs are all held by Tories or a potential rainbow coalition from across the house of those supporting the scheme. I think Tories is more likely but it isn’t the only way.
Another question is whether the Labour front bench officially back the government or provide permission for back bench MPs to do so. Which is required might depend on whether currently leading Tories accept the necessity of the arrangement. It might well be that the Labour front benches abstain on confidence votes allowing back benches to support.
This is all a fallback (or backstop)
This is an unlikely scenario, more likely is that May concedes to allow an informed consent people’s vote after losing initially in the house to get the deal through. In which case I think that passes Parliament comfortably without this unorthodox approach. May taking this course seems less likely following the delay of voting on her deal than it did when I started writing this piece.
The coalition as described is the mechanism for Parliament actually to take control if the government remains in contempt and either avoid bringing votes or fails to respond to them and follow the direction set by Parliament. It isn’t a comfortable outcome for anyone.
Would have to be early March. Desperation will be needed and there needs to be at least 2 weeks for the no confidence process with a bit more to have a government appointed.
Maybe Greive or Greening but that isn’t critical and it might be most important who can keep the most of the Tories onboard.