No more crying wolf. Come Tuesday the commons re-opens to open political warfare. Between now and then, government and anti-Brexit forces are frantically wargaming. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports both sides know it’s now or never.
Operation Fortitude saw an entire fake army assembled near Dover, to fool Hitler into thinking the D-Day landings would take place at Calais.
It worked. When the invasion took place a hundred miles or so from the expected location, the Germans were caught on the hop.
And surprise served Bojo well last week too. He’d always refused to rule out shutting down parliament, but people didn’t really suppose he would. Until he did.
Virtually no one’s buying his claim it’s all to do with sorting a humdinger of a legislative programme for the coming months.
With potential no-deal Brexit just weeks away it’s like saying he’s sorted spangly new wing mirrors for the motor without mentioning that the engine could blow up at any moment.
And there’s no doubt the move’s unleashed herds of cats among hoards of pigeons.
Within hours the pound had fallen, more than a million people had signed an e-petition against it, and there were demonstrations up and down the country.
Also the Scottish Tory leader resigned, partly in protest, and former Conservative Prime Minister Sir John Major signed up to legal moves to try and prevent it.
A seasoned Westminster observer and Fellow of the Royal Society suggested the Mother of Parliaments had just become the Motherf****r of Parliaments.
Even the government’s top advisor and former Brexit campaigner Dominic Cummings admitted September looked set to be f******g weird. Starting, apparently, as he means to go on, by allegedly sacking one the Chancellor’s aides.
And Bojo’s claim that the closure’s perfectly normal? Fits neatly to the quintessential definition of chutzpah. The kid who murders his parents then pleads for clemency on the grounds he’s an orphan.
There’s no denying that shaving ten debating days off the parliamentary calendar so close to the scheduled departure date has limited the remainers’/anti no-dealers’ room for manoeuvre.
But it seems they’re taking comfort from Friedrich Nietzsche’s line: ‘That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.’
It’s likely that the moment the MP’s shuffle back to the green benches, the rebels will mount a concerted attempt to take control of commons business.
This would take place under a parliamentary procedure known as Standing Order 24. These debates don’t normally lead anywhere much, but the Speaker, John Bercow, could make this an exception.
It’d break precedent, big time. But he’s already done that. Speakers don’t normally criticise government decisions, but Mr Bercow went so far as to describe the shutting up shop announcement as a ‘constitutional outrage’.
Worth remembering two things about this man.
One, he had no problem with the sticker on his wife’s car that read ‘bollocks to Brexit’.
And two, come the expected general election this autumn, he’ll probably lose his parliamentary seat. So he’s got nothing to lose by acting boldly.
And commons Speakers, as champions of parliament over government, can have real clout. If they have the cojones.
Think Mr Speaker Lenthall, who famously told King Charles 1st to bog off, when he arrived at Westminster, armed blokes in tow, to arrest a bunch of MP’s he didn’t like.
That same King Charles, incidentally, once shut down parliament for eleven years. But ended up approximately eleven inches shorter as a result. Pssst! Anyone wanna buy a wig? Head included? Geddit…?
But, back to this week, the rebel strategy is, having taken the parliamentary reins, to propose a new law designed to force Boris Johnson to seek and implement another Brexit delay.
They’ve got the numbers in the commons, and even more of them when the bill goes to the lords.
But there’s a problem.
The rules in the upper house say members can talk for as long as they like and no one can stop them. Meaning determined Brexiteers/ministers can simply jabber away until they run out of debating time.
Little wonder the commons dissidents are also hoping to get parliament sitting through next weekend. And casting around for ways to prevent their foes from outwitting them.
Of course it might not work anyway. In which case, the Labour leader may yet go for a vote of no confidence in the government.
Seeing as the Tories only have a working majority of one, and several among them are steeling themselves to vote against their own side, this is a runner. Just.
But even if it comes to pass and a general election is triggered, it’s still within the Prime Minister’s gift to name the actual date we go to the polls.
And if he plumped for some time in November we’d be out of the EU anyway. Meaning huge numbers of Brexit Party supporters would probably switch back to the Conservatives, and Boris Johnson would win handsomely.
He’d like that. Well, who wouldn’t?
However, he would still be left with the inconvenient problem of potential food, medicine and fuel shortages, disruption at the docks, possible violence on the Irish border and the danger of civil disorder breaking out everywhere – all stemming from a no-deal departure.
Not to mention the extremely bad blood he’d have generated among those he likes to term ‘our friends and partners’, thanks to his threat to withhold much of the so-called divorce bill that his predecessor promised to pay.
The sum, up to £39 billion, could come in handy for us. But would almost certainly be dwarfed by the damage to business, trade and the wider British economy.
Which is why Johnson almost certainly does want some kind of last-minute deal, and has his own plan to get it. Starting with an accelerated tempo of talks with the EU.
If he can get anything out of Brussels that he could remotely dress up as concessions he could clinch the deal at the European summit in mid-October, then present it to parliament.
With, by that point, less than a fortnight to go till we crash out, the remain alliance could just crumble to dust.
Meaning MP’s might find themselves voting for pretty much exactly what they voted against, three times, simply to avoid the greater catastrophe of a no-deal departure.
Crazy times, monumental stakes.
And as the ship of state steams serenely on, it’s worth remembering what happened to the ‘unsinkable’ Titanic.
If the iceberg hadn’t been spotted, the head-on collision would have taken out the front buoyancy tanks, but left enough intact to keep the vessel afloat.
Instead, the evasive action led to a glancing blow, holing far more of them, and sealing the boat’s fate.
Moral of the story? Even damage limitation carries risks.
Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.
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