A no-deal Brexit is looking increasingly likely amid bickering over a cross-party coalition – about whether it should be led by Jeremy Corbyn, Ken Clarke or Harriet Harman and whether it should hold a snap general election or a second EU referendum – that may now be the only way to stop it.
Time is running out to stop a no-deal Brexit. If there is to be any chance, politicians with diametrically opposed views will need to unite under a single leader, then take decisive action.
Conservatives like Dominic Grieve and Ken Clarke will need to work with left-wing Labour politicians like Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, who used to describe “overthrowing capitalism” as one of his hobbies; supporters of Scottish independence will need to ally themselves with staunch unionists; Remainers like Jo Swinson will need to make common cause with MPs such as ex-Chancellor Philip Hammond, who support Brexit but are not prepared to countenance a dangerously reckless ‘no deal’.
In short, the most unlikely coalition in British history – with political divisions more complex, varied and possibly even wider than the coalition led by Winston Churchill and Clement Atlee – must be assembled within weeks, possibly days.
It would be odd not to expect Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn to put himself forward as leader. He might look weak if he did not. But he now has a chance to demonstrate his dedication to the national interest by stepping aside to allow someone like Clarke or Labour’s Harriet Harman, both suggested by Swinson, to become a caretaker prime minister, in the event Boris Johnson loses a vote of no confidence.
This would enable a new UK government to seek a further delay of Brexit to allow a snap general election or a second EU referendum. If the latter took place first, the caretaker would have to agree to resign shortly afterwards to allow a general election – giving Corbyn his chance to become prime minister.
This newspaper backed a second referendum only after Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement was decisively defeated in the Commons. That was because it essentially left two options – a dangerous no-deal Brexit or remaining in the EU – and there was and is no mandate from the public for either. Hence the need for a second vote.
If Brexiteers believe a no-deal truly is the ‘Will of the People’, they should have no problem with this. And if no-deal won the vote, that’s what would have to happen, regardless of the consequences.
But chances are that egos and political divisions will prove too much, the unlikely coalition will fail, the ‘Voice of the People’ will go unheard, and Johnson will lead the UK into a most uncertain future.