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Remainers' dream of a 'national unity government' is doomed to fail — and rightly so

Jo Swinson, Jeremy Corbyn, Ian Blackford and co around a table
The closest we may ever get to a Jeremy Corbyn-led 'government of national unity' Credit: DAN KITWOOD /AFP

If Boris Johnson's Remain opponents persuade the House of Commons to declare no confidence in his premiership, and confidence in someone else, they could catapult them into Downing Street.

Remainers are awfully excited about that thought, as they have been busy imagining who they could send in with a mission to delay, if not cancel, Brexit. After her offer to lead an "emergency Cabinet" staffed entirely by female Remainers was roundly rejected and mocked, Caroline Lucas had to admit that she was merely trying to "start a debate".

That debate has certainly taken off, with Remainers considering a flock of fantasy alternative Prime Ministers, such as the backbenchers Ken Clarke to Yvette Cooper. 

What about the leader of her Majesty's Opposition? Whoever is in that role tends to be well-placed to present themselves as an alternative premier, which its occupant is eagerly pointing out today in his offer to lead a “caretaker government” to stop a no deal by extending Article 50.

The problem in this proposal is that the aspiring Prime Minister is none other than Jeremy Corbyn, who many MPs would not even trust to act as caretaker of a school, let alone a national government. 

The Labour leader, who lost the confidence of 172 of his fellow MPs in 2016 and drove over nine of them to quit this year,  would struggle to command the support of his own benches. That is all too obvious to his fellow opposition party leaders, with the Liberal Democrats' Jo Swinson noting he is "not the person who is going to be able to build an even temporary majority in the House of Commons for this task”.

Meanwhile, leader of the five-strong Change UK rump Anna Soubry has insisted - after complaining that Mr Corbyn didn't include her in his letter offering himself as an alternative premier - that she won't support his "meaningless gesture" anyway.

The only people Mr Corbyn has managed to interest with his prime ministerial pitch have been  Caroline Lucas, and the Tories Dominic Grieve, Oliver Letwin and Caroline Spelman, along with ex-Tory Nick Boles.

However, Mr Grieve is part of a tiny Tory band that seems happy to consider the Labour leader taking charge as an emergency measure to keep Brexit at bay. When Alistair Burt, who signed Philip Hammond's anti-no-deal letter, was asked by Sky News if he would be open to it, he replied: "The short answer is no."

When Remainers are this divided, it is no wonder their so-called "government of national unity" remains a pipe dream. There may be a majority against a no-deal in Parliament. But there is no sign of a majority for anyone to sweep aside Mr Johnson to stop it. 

Remainers like Ms Swinson are understandably wary about helping someone like Mr Corbyn become Prime Minister, even if he insists  it would be on a “strictly time-limited” basis that would not see him pursue any Labour policies. And so Corbynsceptics pray that a more palatable Labour alternative could emerge like Harriet Harman, Sir Keir Starmer or Tom Watson.

But Mr Corbyn and his allies are adamant that their man is best placed to be that alternative premier, a not unreasonable position given he is leader of the second biggest party in the Commons. Why would he consider anyone else? Backing another Labour MP would a tacit declaration of no confidence in his own leadership, as he would be acknowledging that someone else in his party was better placed to lead the nation. Backing a Tory like Ken Clarke would be similarly humiliating, as it would shatter his anti-austerity credentials.

Unless Remainers are prepared to bite the bullet and declare confidence in Mr Corbyn as Prime Minister, a more credible scenario than him being persuaded to stand aside and support someone less tainted, their dream alternative government will never become a reality. And deservedly so. 

It is hard to think of a more elitist Remainer plot than for MPs to oust a duly elected Prime Minister, then pick a replacement among themselves with the express aim of giving EU leaders whatever they need to delay Brexit further.

Perhaps the biggest joke is the Remainer pretence that it would be a government of "national unity", when it would deliberately have no one fighting for the 52 per cent who voted Leave in 2016. It would instead be a government of the 48 per cent, for the 48 per cent. 

The Remainers' dream of stitching up a new Brexit-defying government is doomed to fail, and rightly so. But Mr Johnson should not be worried by the feverish Remainer debate about how best to pull off a parliamentary coup d'état. Their plotting will help him persuade voters in any snap election to give him a new Parliament fit to deliver on the referendum.