The Prime Minister will today seek an election for the fourth time in two months – this time with a pre-Brexit date sewn in.
Yesterday the EU finally granted a three-month extension to the Brexit process, pushing back the deadline until 31 January, or earlier if a deal is signed off by parliament in time. Boris Johnson formally accepted, but urged the EU27 not to allow any further delays.
However he was unable to convince MPs to back him in his attempt to secure a snap election, with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and others insisting they could not trust him not to push back the date and force a no-deal Brexit in the new year. With 299 votes in favour and 70 against, it failed to meet the two-thirds threshold required under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.
The Liberal Democrats had been in discussions with the government over an option they would back, along with the SNP, which would enshrine the date of an election in law – thus allaying such fears.
But instead of 9 December as suggested by the pro-Remain parties, the government is expected to stick to its original date, first suggested by Johnson in a letter to Corbyn last week as allowing time to debate and scrutinise his Brexit deal, known as the WAB, with a view to passing it ahead of an election.
Johnson said: “There is no support in the house for the WAB to proceed, but this House cannot any longer keep this country hostage. Millions of families and businesses cannot plan for the future and I don’t believe this paralysis and this stagnation should be allowed to continue.”
A No 10 source added: “Tonight we are laying a one-clause motion to amend the FTPA and call an election with the named day of 12 December. The bill is very similar to the Lib Dem/SNP bill. The WAB will not be put back. This is the way to get Brexit done so the country can move on.”
Jeremy Corbyn said Labour would consider the bill, as long as there was “no danger of this Prime Minister not sticking to his word, because he has some form on these matters”. However the party is understood to be divided on whether to back an election, not least because of Labour’s disastrous polling, which puts it 10-15 percentage points behind the Tories.
Other opposition parties were also conflicted.
The SNP’s Ian Blackford said he wanted “a cast iron assurance that there will be no attempt to bring forward the Withdrawal Agreement Bill” before backing the bill – although he stressed he was ready for a snap vote.
But one Liberal Democrats MP told City A.M.his party would not support the election if the date were not brought forward.
“We’ve been clear 12th isn’t acceptable – not sure what they’re playing at,” he said.
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