It’s the latest trend in Westminster politics. There has been a lot of talk lately about a government of national unity – a GNU, or, a coalition of otherwise ideologically incompatible parties designed to block a no deal Brexit. In the latest development the new Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson said that she won’t back a GNU if it’s one that hands Jeremy Corbyn the keys to No 10.
It seems that ideological divides still run deeper than Brexit, no matter what the proponents of a Corbyn led GNU might want to believe. Conservative rebels including Dominic Grieve, Caroline Spelman, Oliver Letwin and former Conservative Nick Boles have written today to Jeremy Corbyn saying they are willing to talk about forming a temporary government, the implication being that Corbyn will be at the helm. But Swinson has made clear she cannot countenance that.
It is a strange move for the leader of the Liberal Democrats – or, the unofficial party of Remain. If she were to give her backing to Jeremy Corbyn to form a temporary government for the purpose of extending Article 50 she wouldn’t be giving him access to No 10 forever. After the extension was secured an election would be called, in which Labour has already stated they’ll campaign on holding a second referendum, which would have the option to Remain on the ballot. Nothing in there is contrary to Swinson’s interests – or the Liberal Democrats’ interests. In fact, for a party that claims its priority is to block a no deal Brexit, and then to remain in the EU, everything in that is entirely in her interest.
But, it’s not that simple. The temporary government only works if it can command a majority in the Commons. It’s hard to see where Corbyn would get those numbers from – there are plenty of Remainer Conservatives who would rather crash out with no deal than put Corbyn in No 10; and then there are the Labour defectors who left Labour partially in protest to the party’s handling of anti-semitism allegations – it’s hard to see them welcoming Prime Minister Jeremy; and at the moment it’s hard to know how many Tory rebels who are intent on blocking no deal will go through with the temporary government if it puts Corbyn in charge. In short – a Corbyn led GNU would struggle to command a majority.
Nevertheless, Tory rebels have said they’re open to dialogue on what this anti-no deal GNU might look like. Guto Bebb MP told BBC news today:
“A short-term Jeremy Corbyn government is less damaging than the generational damage that would be caused by a no-deal Brexit.”
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That’s quite the statement from a Conservative MP. And it goes to show the absurdity of the whole thing. Currently some MPs are running away with the idea of a GNU, with few stopping to think about whether it will actually work. Perhaps Swinson is on to something.