A no deal Brexit edges ever closer. The parties cannot agree on a deal and neither can the MPs. Now is the time to put differences aside and adopt a radical approach to the greatest constitutional crisis of our time.
With the EU and the UK having agreed to delay Brexit until October 31, 2019 Westminster politics continues to struggle to overcome an impasse. Arguably Brexit couldn’t have come at a worse time for British politics, with the main parties swayed more into ideological divisions than ever before. As a result, the cross-party talks have appeared frosty and partisan. Corbyn has maintained pressure for a general election, an even more likely outcome after May’s resignation following three years of turmoil. Yet, ultimately both the new Tory leader and Corbyn are unlikely to push Brexit further forward if they cannot gather enough MPs on board; a new approach is desperately needed.
Brexit has proven to be the greatest constitutional crisis of our time and as such the main parties should treat it with the utmost seriousness and seek to improve bi-partisan channels. Though radical, creating a formal cross-party coalition would be undeniably beneficial. Critics of this proposal would firstly argue that the Government has more than one singular issue to consider; a coalition between the two main parties would therefore result in even more division over policies, increasing uncertainty and instability. Secondly, they would highlight that such an idea would look unlikely, particularly as the competing Tory candidates would not want to be seen as sacrificing power to Labour. And thirdly, that constitutionally the new Tory leader would lack legitimacy to head such a government.
A general election achieves nothing …
Labour is clearly hoping that a general election against a new Tory leader would help them into power — possibly through a progressive coalition with the SNP. However, both a general election and a change in government would lead to more uncertainty. A YouGov poll, carried out earlier in May, estimated that both Labour and Conservative would gain 25 per cent of votes. It is therefore unlikely that one party would have the mandate to pass through a Brexit deal through both Houses with a majority, especially as one would not expect the change in Tory leadership to create a decisive swing either way in such little time. As a result, a general election would hinder rather than fuel progress — especially since Corbyn and the SNP prove to be at odds on a Brexit approach, while smaller parties continue to make gains. The Brexit Party has taken the European election polls by storm, and if a general election were to happen before Brexit is achieved, one would expect the single-issue party to make at least some gains despite the majoritarian system. The Liberal Democrats, too, continue to push their pro-Remain agenda forward and made record gains in the local council elections at the expense of the main parties.
Indeed, a formal coalition is the only solution that doesn’t damage the credibility of British politics. The national coalition of the 1930s was brought together through a common cause in bringing Britain’s economy out of the Great Depression. The wartime coalition for the Second World War saw Labour and Conservatives unite to fight a common cause, proving successful on both the foreign and domestic fronts.
Brexit is unpassable in its current form — there is no denying that. The key to the deadlock is gaining enough support from MPs — there is also no denying that. As a result, a marriage of both Labour and Conservative would allow the opportunity to discuss a Brexit deal that could get through and be delivered with necessary compromises being made. The parties could even work together to focus on other key ‘short term’ issues such as environmental and penal reform. Considering that Parliament has declared a ‘national climate emergency’, the environment would be an issue where the parties have an incentive to compromise despite differing approaches, and the combined power of both would easily facilitate necessary environmental change.
What such a deal would look like remains to be seen, but May’s previous attempts to lobby Labour to back her have clearly fallen on deaf ears because the former PM has tried to gain Labour support while keeping them at arm’s-length from any policy influence. As a result, the proposal of a joint government under a fresh face would hold the authority to both negotiate with Brussels and between themselves on a suitable arrangement to ensure a smooth Brexit passage. Furthermore, considering that both main parties are likely concerned at polling trends, it is feasible that the new Tory leader and Corbyn could come to an agreement on timetabling an election that occurs just after the new Brexit deadline, giving authority and legitimacy to the arrangement and necessarily putting the constitutional crisis of Brexit above any other constitutional matters.
Unfortunately, this radical solution to the deadlock would be perceived as incredibly risky to both the main parties and their MPs. Ultimately, Labour MPs would reject working with a flailing Conservative Government with a new head who hasn’t been electorally held accountable, while the Tories would resist sharing power with their adversaries.
The MPs on both sides have continued to be motivated by self-interest throughout the Brexit process, and it is about time that they worked together properly to deliver on Brexit. With both the Labour Party and the Conservatives making it clear that they want to see it delivered, they should be able to do so together no matter the resistance of some of their MPs. Instead of bitter in-fighting, they should channel the wasted resources and energy into negotiating together. Only in this manner can the deadlock be broken.
Wishful thinking? Probably. But consensus politics needs to return for the sake of the constitution and democracy. Any other alternatives will continue to be bitterly fought and sacrifice all political ideals.