Hope you are enjoying the phoney war before the Brexit crunch kicks in

PUBLISHED: 18:41 22 August 2019 | UPDATED: 18:41 22 August 2019

Prime minister Boris Johnson and his political colleagues are blowing plenty of hot air in the period before MPs return to work on September 3, says Iain Dale

Prime minister Boris Johnson and his political colleagues are blowing plenty of hot air in the period before MPs return to work on September 3, says Iain Dale

Iain Dale says the rest of August is just a smokescreen for when the MPs are back on September 3 and the real countdown to Brexit starts again

When the history books of this period are written, the last two weeks of August 2019 will be known as 'the phoney war', rather like the few months following the declaration of war in September 1939. Threats and counterthreats are being made but in the end to little effect. Boris Johnson writes to Donald Tusk in what seem to be perfectly reasonable and polite terms, and Donald Tusk shoves it back in his face in a somewhat rude and abrupt fashion. It was always going to be thus. It's all a stage.

When the prime minister used the word 'collaboration' last week with regard to British MPs whose actions give succour to the European Commission he knew exactly what he was doing. It wasn't a slip of the tongue or a 'misspeak', it was intentional.

It was language he should not have used, but he knew exactly what he was doing when he said it. It raised echoes of those traitorous Brits who collaborated with the Nazis in World War Two. There is nothing like exaggerating to make your point, I suppose. Although I may deprecate the disgraceful language, Boris Johnson was right to point out that the more the Tory (and other) Remainers give the impression that they have an as yet undisclosed way of thwarting Brexit, the EU will continue to maintain its stance of unflinching inflexibility. You can hardly blame them.

This is why I do not expect any movement at all from Brussels on renegotiating any aspect of the Withdrawal Agreement. Yet. They will patiently wait to see what happens when Parliament returns on September 3. In the two weeks in which parliament will sit, there will almost certainly be a vote of no confidence in the government and the Speaker of the House of Commons will conspire with Remainer MPs to allow them to grab control of the order paper, although to what effect remains to be seen.

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Jeremy Corbyn has always said he wouldn't table a confidence motion until he was sure he could win it. However, due to some spectacular cackhandedness on his part over the last fortnight, instead of building a coalition of anti-Tory allies he has done the exact opposite. Not only has he alienated the very few Tory MPs who might have risked voting against their own party in a bid to stop a 'no deal' Brexit, he has also upset various MPs on the opposition benches.

The five members of Anna Soubry's Change UK Independent Group of MPs are said to be considering either backing the government or abstaining. Without them, and the various other independents, it is very difficult to see how a No Confidence motion gets through.

Assuming all Labour MPs vote with their leader - and it's a big assumption - Corbyn could only muster a total of 301 MPs to back him, with the support of the Liberal Democrats and the SNP. In order to win a confidence vote he needs 322. So even with the support of all 20 Independent or Change UK MPs, he is still one short. In other words, the only way he can win a confidence vote is with the support of Tory MPs. Even if a couple voted with him, they are likely to be counterbalanced by one or two Labour MPs, like Kate Hoey, who have already announced their departure from parliament and have nothing to lose.

This is why it is not only very difficult for Corbyn to prevail, it's why a Government of National Unity won't happen either - especially under the leadership of the current Leader of the Opposition.

But just in case things go wrong for Boris Johnson he and his advisers are determined to prepare for a 1910-style general election pitching The People versus Parliament - and plucky Britain against the intransigent EU.

Over the next 10 days, expect a lot of bluster and hot air to be exhaled from all sides. If Boris Johnson comes through the next three weeks unscathed, then the EU really does have to decide whether to blink or not. Then we've reached the real crunch-point. Again.

Email Iain at or follow him on Twitter @iaindale

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