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Will the Grinch steal Brexit?

Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 25 October 2019

As Karl Marx taught us, history repeats itself first as tragedy and then as farce.

With Brexit we are long past these two separate stages. Instead, we are witnessing a tragic farce.

At least it is a farce that could soon end. That is if Boris Johnson finally gets his will and Parliament agrees to a general election on 12 December.

Today (NZ time), the British Prime Minister told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg that if opposition MPs want more time to debate his new Withdrawal Agreement, they can have that time – but only after a December snap election.

Johnson knows perfectly well there is no such necessity. Under the Fixed Terms Act, Parliament has all the time in the world for this exercise. Or, to be precise, until 2022. Under that same Act, the Prime Minister can table dissolution motions all he likes, but it is Parliament that has to agree to them with a two-thirds majority.

Britain has been there before. It is not the first time that Johnson has tried to pave the way for an election only to be stopped by opposition MPs. Actually, by my count, it is at least the third time in the past month.

This time could be different, though. Labour has pushed Brexit past the original Halloween date. Remember, that was not supposed to happen under Johnson who claimed he “would rather die in a ditch”.

So, with this embarrassment delivered, the opposition might finally agree to go to the polls.

It would undoubtedly be the best way forward because the past year has demonstrated how this Parliament is stuck. Only an election could resolve this situation and finally deliver a united government with a mandate and a majority. Britain has not had that since the Brexit referendum.

Ironically, this prospect is also the main reason the opposition may block the election: the likely winner of a snap election is Boris Johnson, not Jeremy Corbyn.

Which leads us back to the tragic farce that British politics has become: a government that cannot govern, a Parliament that cannot find agreement, and an opposition that does not want an election.

It would be an early Christmas present for Britain if this stalemate could be broken by a December election. But there are many Brexit grinches around. They could steal Johnson’s snap election plans.

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