A vote of no confidence in Boris Johnson's government could take place after recess. But what does that mean—and who might win it?by James Devey / August 21, 2019 / Leave a comment
What is a vote of no-confidence?
A vote of no-confidence is a motion put forward by the opposition to test the support of the government.
If the government loses one, there are three subsequent possibilities: a new government wins a vote of confidence within 14 days, the previous government wins a vote of confidence within 14 days, or a general election is held.
Why will there be a vote of no confidence?
During Jeremy Corbyn’s speech in Corby this week, he announced that he would table a motion of no-confidence in Boris Johnson’s administration.
By convention, this would take precedence over normal parliamentary business, so when Parliament reconvenes, it will happen if Corbyn goes ahead. The government has no power to stop such a vote taking place.
What are the possible outcomes of this vote?
The first possible outcome is that the Johnson government wins the vote—in this case, the government remains the same.
What happens if the government loses?
The second is that the Johnson government loses the vote, in which case a new government has 14 days to gather enough MPs to win a vote of confidence.
There are two possible plans for this, both of which would involve forming a temporary government to extend Article 50 and then bringing about either a second referendum or general election.
The first would be a Jeremy Corbyn led coalition bringing about a general election, the second would be a ‘government of national unity’, led by Kenneth Clarke or Harriet Harman, that would bring about a second referendum
Finally, if no government can win a vote of confidence within 14 days, a general election must be called, the date of which will be set by the outgoing administration.
Where do parties stand?
Labour supports a motion of no confidence, leading to a Jeremy Corbyn led temporary government. Nicola Sturgeon has said the SNP would be willing to work with Corbyn on this, with some negotiations due to their differing Brexit positions.
Jo Swinson has said the Lib Dems would be unwilling to support a Corbyn led temporary government, proposing instead Ken Clarke or Harriet Harman as potential candidates, although her stance on this may well soften.
Plaid Cymru and the Greens would prefer an immediate second referendum, but are willing to support Corbyn if this is not possible, and have called on Swinson to join them on this.
Around half of the current independents oppose a no-deal exit, so would support a motion of no-confidence—but all of those (other than Chris Williamson) would refuse to back a Corbyn led government.
Where will the vote be won or lost?
Only one Tory MP has currently said he would vote to bring down the government, even if it led to a Jeremy Corbyn led government. Around ten, most notably Dominic Grieve, Ken Clarke and Oliver Letwin, would probably bring down the government if they were certain the result would be a government of national unity rather than one led by Jeremy Corbyn.
A larger group of Tory MPs, numbering around 30 and led by Phillip Hammond and David Gauke, are searching for a way to legislate to prevent a no-deal exit, but if no procedural option was found, may well vote against the government.
The most notable Labour rebel is likely to be Kate Hoey, the MP for Vauxhall. She is a vocal supporter of Brexit, and is not standing up for re-election in her remain voting constituency.
She previously did not vote with the opposition on the motion of no-confidence brought against Theresa May’s government.
Other than her, there are around ten Labour MPs, such as Ronnie Campbell, Dennis Skinner and Graham Stringer, who support Brexit to the extent that they would prefer a no deal under Johnson than any further delay or a second referendum.
Luciana Berger, Heidi Allen, Nick Boles, Gavin Shuker and John Woodcock all strongly oppose a no-deal exit, but would not bring down the current government if the result was a Corbyn led one.
Chris Williamson, a staunch Corbyn supporter, is the only independent who would support this option. On the other hand, the remaining independents, such as Ian Austin and Frank Field, would not bring down the current government due to their support for Brexit and opposition to Jeremy Corbyn.
So what will happen?
As the numbers currently stand, there is not enough support for a Corbyn led temporary government. Even if Corbyn concedes to another candidate for leadership, any immediate no-confidence vote is unlikely to succeed, due to the decision by the group of anti-no-deal Tories to attempt to legislate to avoid it. The no-confidence vote most likely to succeed would be one held after giving some time for legislating. If the attempt fails, and a moderate grandee is the candidate for temporary PM, enough Tories would either vote with the opposition or abstain that the downfall of the Johnson government is likely.