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Editorial: The left must be on guard against a national government

FORMER Supreme Court justice Lord Sumption’s musings on how MPs might or might not prevent a no-deal Brexit point vividly to the two most serious threats faced by the labour movement and the left this coming autumn.

Since the EU seems disinclined to reopen negotiations with the new Prime Minister, Johnson faces sticking to his leadership campaign pledge and allowing our EU membership to cease come Halloween or asking for another extension.

The former would bring the wrath of banks and businesses keen to keep Britain as close to the EU as possible; the latter could do terminal damage to the Conservative Party and would dramatically weaken its chances at any subsequent election.

Sumption is not so naive as to imagine there is a clear-cut legal solution to the political crisis gripping Britain’s ruling class. His observation that all that is required for Britain to leave the EU without a withdrawal agreement is for no agreement to have been reached by October 31 sounds obvious — but it’s a reality seemingly denied by Parliament’s previous votes to reject “no deal” while failing to agree any actual deal.

But MPs’ votes against no-deal played a political role in laying the groundwork to justify further parliamentary action designed to stop such a departure — including by remaining in the EU if possible.

That’s the option Sumption points to when he says the only two ways that Parliament can stop no-deal are by revoking Article 50 or forming an interim government.

A no-confidence motion is not enough, since even after losing it Johnson could squat in No 10 while MPs tried to cobble together a new government that could command the confidence of the Commons.

If they cannot do this quickly enough he would be able to call an election, setting a date after October 31 so that Britain’s membership is already expired. If Johnson could keep hold of the leadership of his own party, having delivered Leave in the teeth of parliamentary opposition would give him a narrative that could sweep him back into office.

If Labour acts as the party of the status quo, scrabbling to prevent Brexit at all costs despite all its MPs being elected on a promise to honour the vote, its chances of defeating Johnson shrink.

But what if MPs do win a no-confidence vote and move on to the stage of cobbling together an alternative government? The labour movement’s priority must then be to exert maximum pressure for an immediate general election.

It is unlikely that the leader of the opposition, who by convention would be asked first to form a government, could do so without an election.

Jeremy Corbyn is too feared by Establishment lackeys in all parties. No Tory would support him and Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson is on record saying she would not.

Pressure would then be placed on the left to allow a “national government,” supposedly to steer our course through a national crisis, led by some other Conservative or Labour MP.

Labour has unfortunately helped pave the way for such arguments by joining the hysteria over a no-deal Brexit, giving the impression that it is a calamity worth preventing at all costs. 

The real calamity would be the defeat of the socialist left and of a Labour Party leadership whose programme represents the only serious attempt in British politics to grapple with the profound economic, social, environmental and democratic crises that have engulfed the Western world.

That would be achieved by any surrender of control of the Labour Party to the right.

The left ought to have no part in any “national government” stitch-up and be ready to take action against any MPs who connive at it.

Even a major break with a significant number of MPs leaving the party would do less damage than meek participation in such a government.

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