Conservative MP Tom
Tugendhat, who is the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, outlined the plan via Twitter:
What odds would you give on:
1 UK exits EU by 24 Aug – in time for G7 or before Parliament returns. Art 50 passed so nothing to stop unilateral withdrawal.
2 General Election straight after to get majority.
3 Answer Irish border Q with NI only referendum on NI only backstop?
— Tom Tugendhat (@TomTugendhat) August 14, 2019
Regarding point 1, unilateral withdrawal is not allowed under EU legislation, which the UK is signed up to:
Point 1 legally requires secondary legislation under the Withdrawal Act. But s 20(3) of the Act suggests that a change of date can only be "in accordance with Article 50(3)" TEU. So the EU would have to agree to change the date. "Unilateral" change of date is therefore illegal.
— Steve Peers (@StevePeers) August 14, 2019
While Peers is correct, his argument involves a huge assumption: namely, that the law is followed on this occasion.
In September 2018, the High Court ruled that Vote Leave, the official Leave campaign fronted by Johnson and Michael Gove MP, had broken the law in its overspend. Earlier, in July 2018, the Electoral Commission also ruled that Vote Leave broke electoral law. Consequently, Vote Leave was referred to the police.
Regarding Tugendhat’s second point, should Johnson follow up an early withdrawal from the EU with a general election, that would be a huge gamble.
Yes, Johnson could say to those of the electorate who want to leave the EU at any cost that he has pulled it off. But in the immediate aftermath, if the UK economy nose-dives, then many pro-Leavers might desert him.
Moreover, an early withdrawal would ensure the UK is even further alienated in its relationship with the EU.
Tugendhat’s third point is also problematic. It raises the possibility that a referendum in Northern Ireland could at some point result in an all-Ireland customs arrangement. That would essentially mean a trade border in the Irish Sea.
But the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) opposes such a solution, because, in their view, it would affect the political status of Northern Ireland as part of the UK union.
However, it could provide an opportunity for Britain to trade with the EU via a customs union. That would leave Northern Ireland as the intermediary.
Presumably, the prime aim of Johnson is not just to secure Brexit, but ensure the Conservative Party wins at the general election, preferably with him as leader. And an early withdrawal from the EU, followed immediately by a general election, would be very tempting for him, despite the risks.
It’s a scenario that, outrageous as it is, cannot be completely ruled out. Though, no doubt, it would likely provoke legal challenges in the UK courts.
Nevertheless, all eventualities should be prepared for.
Featured image via Tiocfaidh ár lá 1916 – Flickr
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