Boris Johnson Brexit vote
(Image: AAP/Dan Himbrechts)

Crumbs… Gosh… Boris has only gone and sort of got himself a bloody Brexit, hasn’t he?

Hasn’t he?

Well uh, gosh, phwoar, yes and no. Last night, the House of Commons voted for the second reading of Boris’ kludgy and pretty duplicitous withdrawal bill, potentially taking it through to the debate and amendment stage.

Labour argued vociferously against it — with a powerful and forensic speech by Jeremy Corbyn, undermined only by interruptions pointing out that he has campaigned against the EU all his life — but by now enough Labour MPs with a Leave constituency had peeled away. The DUP voted no, as did everyone else, but with Tories, de-whipped Tories, and Labour rebels, it got up 329-299.

Yet this triumph — a voted-up deal! After years! — was overshadowed by the government’s defeat on the accompanying “program” bill, an unamendable procedural motion which sets a strict pace for the bill’s passage. That was essential to avoid the loose British equivalent of a filibuster — though the Commons is sometimes so languorous it’s hard to tell — but it went down 322-308, all but a hardcore of Labour returning to the other side, essentially a re-do of the Saturday vote reconfirming the extension request.

For Boris’ audacious plan to work — sell out the DUP, compensate with Labour rebels — the program bill was as necessary as the withdrawal bill itself. Having lost the program bill, he is now legally committed to the extension if the EU grants it.

Boris had said that the rejection of his withdrawal bill would trigger a general election — though this could only be done by Boris resigning or staging a no-confidence vote in himself, which probably has the virtue of deep psychological truth — but the split decision left him in a quandary. So he has put the withdrawal bill on hold while he (gosh, argghh, crumbs) thinks of his next move.

There is one great temptation for Boris to go to an election, and that is a marked poll split. Polls show that, in an election done pre-Brexit, the Tories lead Labour around 37% to 22%. But in a proposed post-Brexit scenario, the figures come back to 28% each. This suggests that a significant tranche of voters are more knowing than they are given credit for. They want Brexit, but not the Tories.

The next two days, as Boris stalls, are now given over to debate on the Queen’s speech — policy statement of a government no one believes will go forward.

While waiting for the EU’s decision, the ball is now, in the terms of the Eton wall Game, in Johnson’s “calx”. It is now for him to “furk” it, or go “shy”. Gosh… jappers… phwoar!

Will Boris’ deal go the distance? Is there an end in sight? Send your thoughts to [email protected]. Please include your full name if you would like to be included for publication.

Peter Fray

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