Another day, another batch of humiliating defeats for Boris Johnson.
The British prime minister lost all four votes in the House of Commons on Wednesday, bringing him to an ignominious 0-for-5 in his first series of Parliamentary votes – a first for a British leader.
Story Continued Below
He watched as members of Parliament ganged up to try and further delay Britain’s exit from the European Union whileeliminatingthe possibility of leaving without a negotiated deal. To add insult to injury, lawmakers thenrefusedto approve an early general election, which Johnson had pushed for in an effort to increase his waning support.
In short, it was a bad day for Boris.
But it’s not a political death sentence. He might even eventually win.
What happens next?
While Wednesday’s votes got the ball rolling on another Brexit delay and on preventing a no-deal Brexit, neither outcome has been written in stone.
Instead, the attention now turns to the unelected House of Lords.
While the upper house of Parliament is expected to confirm the House of Commons’ decision to reject a no-deal Brexit, every day oit debates is a day Johnson is not being thrown out of office – and another day closer to the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline. And it looks like the House of Lords may beChatteringthrough the weekend.
That gives Johnson’s opponents a reason to approve that election sooner rather than later – a step they rejected today.
Parliament is suspended for five weeks starting Monday, putting the pressure on opposition parties to call the election or risk winding up with exactly what they’re trying to avoid: a no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31, a prime minister they hate and a shredded set of constitutional conventions.
What would an election actually accomplish?
In short, all sides need an election to help resolve Britain’s Brexit conundrum.
In the United Kingdom, every level of the country is divided. Scotland and Northern Ireland oppose Brexit; England and Wales support it. Cities back the EU, towns and villages back Brexit. Older age groups want out, young Brits are determined to stay in. Anything short of a national election leaves the country stuck in that rut.
In Parliament, rebels displayed strength this week in defeating Johnson, but it’s been a long time coming. Members of Parliament still don’t know what sort of Brexit they support, despite a deal being on the table for nine months already. An election could help guide them.
And at the EU, officials need another U.K. election to figure out who they’re supposed to negotiate with. Neither Johnson nor opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn commands the support of Parliament. And when the man in Downing Street talks about the contours of a new deal, he doesn’t follow through with specifics for the EU to seriously consider.
So what’s the holdup?
While an election offers the best chance for resolution, it also risks running the UK into another dead end.
It’s possible, maybe even likely, that voters would send large delegations from five parties to Parliament, further fragmenting it.
If that happens, get ready to learn another delightful British phrase: the hung Parliament. That’s where no party can form a government on its own, and must instead resort to a coalition government that spans geographies and ideologies.
But an election would at least give up-to- date information about what Britons meant when they voted for Brexit in 2016. We would know if Johnson really does have a mandate to pursue Brexit at any cost.
What are the chances Boris gets his mandate?
Johnson does have several significant advantages in an election.
Chief among them is that his main rival, Corbyn, is not very popular. In the 10 most recent national opinion polls, Corbyn’s average disapproval rating was in the mid – 60 s, compared with Johnson’s at around 40 percent.
Johnson has also boosted his party’s support levels in opinion polls since winning the keys to Downing Street. Conservatives now poll at an average of 34 percent, compared to 28 percent the week Johnson took over, according POLITICO’s poll of polls.
Corbyn is deeply distrusted by right-leaning voters because of his severe socialist policy prescriptions. And, as a long-term EU critic – who is committed to supporting the Brexit referendum result – he also frustrates many of the 16 million Britons who voted to stay in the EU. Corbyn’s team is also decimated after dozens of senior and average MPs resigned in recent years, and it’s a bit battered after facing recentcomplaintsof anti-semitism . It’s easy to see Corbyn stumbling in an election campaign.
Knowing that, Johnson is free to deal with the political threat to his right: Brexit purists, who rally around Nigel Farage and his new Brexit Party. Johnson has been dialing up rhetoric around the need to avoid “surrender” and “running up the white flag,” knowing that heroic language helps peel voters away from the Brexit Party, which has slumped to 12 percent since he took office.
So while things are going to look very bad for Johnson for a while, he’s hoping and planning for political fortune to swing dramatically his way in October. If it does, Johnson’s high-stakes Brexit gamble could have his fans comparing him to that other charismatic British blowhard who suffered a thousand defeats before winning the war: his hero, Winston Churchill.