Is politics the new rock ‘n’ roll? All the chaos and clownery that went down in parliament yesterday

The Conservatives lost their majority - and a key Brexit vote

Thanks to dramatic turn of events in parliament yesterday, Brexit just got even messier. Prime Minister Boris Johnson gained permission from the Queen to shut down parliament in the critical time ahead of the UK’s current deadline for leaving the European Union (October 31), and there’s now set to be a judicial review hearing into the decision to prorogue parliament tomorrow. The House of Commons also tabled a motion to take control of the entire Brexit process yesterday – and won. It’s likely that further bills,  including a motion to outlaw a no-deal Brexit, will now pass. This afternoon an emergency bill to outlaw a no-deal is getting a second reading, and MPs will vote on whether to pass it at 7pm today.

MPs also defeated the new Prime Minister by 27 votes yesterday – in other words, 52% of MPs voted for the motion. Now where have we seen a very slim majority like this before? Ah yes! The EU referendum! Here’s a recap of what went down. 

The Tory-DUP majority is finished

Following Theresa May’s disastrous election campaign back in 2017, the Conservatives lost their majority in parliament. They clung onto power by forming an alliance with famed homophobes the DUP in order to get legislation through the House of Commons. Still, that only left them with a slim working majority, which has been gradually decreasing ever since.

And yesterday that majority disappeared altogether. In a deliberately staged move, Bracknell MP Philip Lee rose from his seat and walked across to join the Liberal Democrats – in the middle of a speech by Boris Johnson. Now, look. Phillip Lee has some really heinous opinions. This is a guy who has continually tried to slash benefits, and he also believes that people with HIV shouldn’t be allowed to migrate to the UK. Let’s hold back on declaring that he’s some sort of renegade hero – he’s actually a massive prick. However, his defection was a pivotal moment in the day. It’s the moment that the Conservatives became a minority government, and later on that evening, Johnson lost the key vote. 

Twenty-one senior politicians have been sacked

Ahead of yesterday’s vote, Johnson took a hard line towards any potential rebellions from within his own party, threatening to withdraw ‘the whip’ from any MPs who voted against him. Effectively, withdrawing the whip is a bit like sacking someone. However, 21 Conservatives – including the former chancellor Philip Hammond, Father of the House Ken Clarke, and various other senior politicians – rebelled anyway, and voted in favour of parliament taking control of Brexit.

And so Johnson has effectively expelled all of them from his party as a result. Though the deselected MPs will still have seats, they now have to sit as independent party members unless the whip is restored. The mass sacking has removed the Conservatives’ majority, and so they will now find it increasingly difficult to pass any legislation. 

Nobody’s sure if there will be a General Election

Normally when a government loses its majority their only option is to demand a General Election. Following his defeat, Johnson did just that. However, for an early election to take place, a ‘supermajority’ of MPs (two-thirds of the House of Commons) need to vote in favour of an election motion. Otherwise, general elections take place every five years, according to the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been calling for an election for quite some time, but in response to Boris Johnson’s request, he said that for now Labour’s priority lies with preventing a no-deal Brexit. The party wants a further extension to Article 50, and will attempt to pass a law preventing a no-deal Brexit. MPs are debating this bill today, and it is expected to pass, with support from all of the opposition parties, plus Tory rebels. Notably, the value of the pound rose following Johnson’s defeat – it previously tumbled to a record low.

Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, says that Johnson’s call for an election is a calculated tactic “What we want to ensure is we’ve got the insurance policy of taking no deal off the table and we will have a general election on our terms, not Boris Johnson’s terms,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “Having got control… last night we are not going to hand it back to him in what is very obviously a trap.”

Some suspect that Johnson expected to lose yesterday’s key vote all along, and hoped to force a general election by sacking various MPs from his party. Early polls indicate that the Conservatives could gain seats in this way; but it would be a large gamble. David Gauke, one of the party’s rebels, claimed that Number 10 was “almost goading” Tories to vote against Johnson. “The strategy, to be honest, is to lose this week and then seek a general election, having removed those of us who are not against leaving the European Union, but believe we should do so with a deal,” he claimed, speaking on the Today Programme. 

And the clownery continues…

Many people watching events unfold last night in parliament – including several MPs who shouted “sit up!” across the benches – were astounded by the sight Jacob Rees-Mogg lying down during the debate. Dodgy posture is one thing, but this was in a completely different league. Sprawled across at least three seats, he brought to mind the air of a Dickensian workhouse owner who has stayed up past his bedtime. The Green Party’s Caroline Lucas said that his body language was “‘so contemptuous of this house and of the people’.” Pulled up on his slouching by reporters today, Rees-Mogg called the line of questioning “odd”. A bit hypocritical from the man who recently compiled a language guidebook banning the use of metric measurements and the word “very” – turns out strict rules of etiquette only apply to everyone else around him. 

And while Rees-Mogg’s little nap is very inconsequential in the grand scheme of everything else happening in parliament, his arrogance definitely isn’t. Guto Bebb, one of the Tory rebels, and the MP for Aberconwy Bebb, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the Leader of the House’s attitude helped to make up the minds of a handful of would-be rebels. ‘There were at least four individuals who were still doubtful who changed their position to being supportive and voting with us on the back of Jacob’s performance” he claimed. “He was deemed to be arrogant, out of touch and I think the way in which he treated some of the interventions was a red rag to bull in many cases.”