Embattled British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to make a fourth bid to force an early general election on December 12 by tabling another bill in Parliament on Tuesday, a day after a similar attempt was rejected by MPs following the European Union’s further extension to the Brexit deadline until January 31.
With his “do or die” pledge to leave the EU by the October 31 deadline now dead, Johnson has set his hopes for getting his snap poll bill through the Commons threshold. His latest attempt may just succeed after the Opposition Labour Party said it would back an early election in December.
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn told his shadow Cabinet: “I have consistently said that we are ready for an election and our support is subject to a no-deal Brexit being off the table”.
“We have now heard from the EU that the extension of Article 50 to January 31 has been confirmed, so for the next three months, our condition of taking no-deal off the table has now been met. We will now launch the most ambitious and radical campaign for real change our country has ever seen,” he said.
After three failed attempts previously, Johnson’s chances seem slightly higher this time as he requires only a simple majority of MPs to back him, as opposed to the two-thirds majority under the UK Fixed Term Parliaments Act.
Besides this attempt at circumventing the law, he has also offered the Opposition parties a commitment to abandon his Brexit Bill from being brought back for a vote, opening up the prospect of the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party (SNP) MPs backing the General Election vote.
The Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which is vehemently opposed to the so-called divorce bill with the EU due to the post-Brexit invisible border planned in the Irish Sea, is also likely to back an election this time.
After he lost the vote on Monday evening, Johnson told the House of Commons: “We will not allow this paralysis to continue, and one way or another we must proceed straight to an election”.
“The government will give notice of presentation for a short bill for an election on December 12 so we can finally get Brexit done. This House cannot any longer keep this country hostage,” he said.
However, the Liberal Democrats still maintain that they do not trust Johnson’s word and that he could still try and sneak through his Brexit Bill despite his commitment, making a new vote for a December 12 election still not a guarantee.
“If Boris Johnson wants a general election, then he could have supported our bill for a general election on 9 December. Instead, he has chosen to stick to his original plan for 12 December which we have already rejected,” said Liberal Democrats leader Jo Swinson, whose party is pushing for an earlier date because it would not leave the government enough time to get any legislation through because the UK Parliament must be dissolved 25 days ahead of any election.
For a December 9 election, Parliament would need to pass its legislation by Thursday this week, but for a December 12 election it could wait until the middle of next week, leaving open a window for the controversial Brexit Bill to be brought back on the table.
Ian Blackford, the SNP leader in the Commons, said his party would need a “cast-iron guarantee” that the Prime Minister would not try to bring back his Brexit deal to Parliament.
Downing Street has indicated that the government may be open to an earlier date than December 12 to get all Opposition parties on board.
Under the Fixed Term Parliament, the next General Election is not due until 2022 and to push it through any time earlier, the PM needs the Parliament’s backing.
The latest developments in Westminster follow the EU agreeing to offer the UK a three-month extension to the Brexit deadline, until January 31 next year, which Boris Johnson formally accepted by issuing a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk and informing the Commons that he had done so.
“We must have December 12 as a ‘hard stop’. A parliamentary terminus that everyone can believe in, and an election fulfils that purpose to allow a new Parliament and a new government to be in place by Christmas,” Johnson told the Commons as he moved his election bid which was rejected by MPs on Monday night.
The EU responded to Johnson’s letter saying the written procedure can now be go-ahead for the so-called “Brexit flextension”, which means the UK could leave earlier than January 2020 once a deal has been ratified. But the prospect of Britain leaving the economic bloc by Thursday is now effectively off the table.