With May’s Brexit arrangement facing an uncertain future in the Commons, some of the palace intrigue shifts to the idea of a vote of no confidence in the government should HMG fail to gain a majority for May’s plan in the House. But what would actually happen if this were to occur – and more importantly, how would it occur and how exactly might it unfold?
First off, I should explain how votes of no confidence in the government work since the adoption of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011. If a vote of no confidence in the government is called, either by the governing party or the official opposition, it goes to a vote of the House. Obviously, you almost never actually see an opposition call for a vote of no confidence in the government, since by definition the government has a majority in the House and the opposition will look like fools. But let’s just say Corbyn calls for a vote of no confidence in the government, and because the DUP vote with the opposition and/or some Tory MPs vote with Labour, a no confidence motion passes.
This does not automatically mean that we have a general election. The House has 14 days to come up with an alternative government that can command a majority after the no confidence vote first. It could, of course, be the very same government. For instance, say the DUP vote for no confidence in the current government, yet over the course of subsequent conversations with the Tory leadership are given concessions that get them back on side again. The government would then just vote confidence in itself and continue.
Here’s a slightly wacky scenario I’ve considered over the last few days. What if Corbyn gets pushed to call a no confidence vote and it passes – yet this has all been done to screw him over. In the early days of the 14 day period, a “government of national unity” comprising Tory Remainer rebels, most of the PLP, and all of the other current opposition parties band together under the leadership of say, a Labour moderate (pick one, any one). This is unlikely given how many MPs in different parties would need to swing behind this idea, but impending no deal Brexit might be enough, should the chips fall right. The fact that I can even put this scenario forward as not totally out of the question does say a lot about where we are at the moment.
I don’t think a no confidence vote is actually going to happen. Most Remainers in parliament want a People’s Vote, and the only realistic way to get it is if May adopts it as an amendment to her own Bill. Every other route is terribly complicated. That’s why I think either May manages to squeeze the votes for her arrangement as is so it passes, or it goes through amended with either a really soft Brexit or the referendum attached. I very much doubt there will be a general election any time soon.