The next PM could lose the confidence of the commons before he has even begunby Raphael Hogarth / July 3, 2019 / Leave a comment
Boris Johnson often paints a no-deal Brexit as the only alternative to an untimely political death. Britain must leave the EU on 31st October, “do or die.” Kick the can again, he says, “and we kick the bucket.”
Yet a Johnson government’s commitment to a no-deal Brexit could itself draw the reaper to the threshold of No 10. Dominic Grieve, a former attorney general now on the Tory backbenches, says that a “large number” of Conservative MPs will do“everything possible” to stop no-deal, including voting against the government in a parliamentary confidence vote. Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood says there are “a dozen or so.”
In truth only a small handful of Conservatives have flirted with the idea in public but, then again, only a small handful is needed. If Grieve and Ellwood joined forces with Ken Clarke and Philip Lee, both of whom have suggested they could bring down a Tory government over no-deal, then the government’s working parliamentary majority of four would be gone in the blink of an eye. That raises difficult constitutional questions. If Boris Johnson does win the Conservative leadership contest, as expected, could his government be stillborn, brought down before he has entered the chamber for his first Prime Minister’s Questions?
Johnson would not become prime minister automatically upon winning the Tory leadership contest. Theresa May will remain in place until she resigns. At that point, it would fall to the Queen to appoint a successor.
The cabinet manual offers some principles to guide that process. “In modern times the convention has been that the Sovereign should not be drawn into party politics,” the manual says. If there is any doubt over who should become prime minister, then it is for “those involved in the political process, and in particular the parties represented in parliament,” to determine who is “best placed to be able to command the confidence of the House of Commons,” and to tell the Queen. This responsibility falls “especially” on the incumbent prime minister, who at the time of her resignation may be asked by the Queen who can best command the confidence of the House.
There are two main options for how to proceed. The first, conventional way would be for May to advise the Queen to appoint the leader of the Conservative Party, even if it did not appear that…