An early general election looks likely amid the chaos of Brexit, but there are dangers in electing MPs through the prism of a single issue.
It is a politically difficult and rather odd thing to do for an opposition party to refuse to allow a general election, thereby forcing the Prime Minister and Government to remain in power.
And, indeed, Boris Johnson has sought to make political capital over the refusal of Labour MPs to back an election, claiming they and other opposition parties in the Commons are afraid to face the electorate.
For their part, MPs opposed to a no-deal Brexit – including Philip Hammond, Ken Clarke and other recently expelled Conservatives – fear Johnson would renege on a promise to hold the election before Brexit Day on 31 October, meaning the UK would simply crash out of the EU overnight during the election campaign. So they want to be sure that a Bill designed to prevent a no-deal is enshrined in UK law before agreeing to an election. Some believe Johnson will try to find a way to get around the law and want to delay allowing an election until the request to the EU is actually submitted.
However, it seems likely – in these uncertain times, it is hard to put it any stronger – that the pressure for an early election will become so great that it will happen.
It will be one of the most important events in the history of British democracy but, as a means of escaping the current impasse, it is a poor choice. After Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement was defeated by a historic margin in the Commons, The Scotsman argued the only way to settle Brexit was to have a second referendum and this is still our view.
A general election will potentially elect MPs for years to come, a government that will make decisions on matters as important as involvement in wars, the economy and the NHS.
But this one would be decided almost entirely on the issue of Brexit. A Conservative voter might feel they have to vote for a Labour Remainer, even though the thought of John McDonnell, who has spoken about his desire to overthrow capitalism, as Chancellor fills them with horror. Similarly, a Labour Brexiteer could end up voting for a right-wing Conservative who wants to abolish the NHS.
Might we end up electing MPs who would allow the prorogation of Parliament for even longer than Boris Johnson’s politically motivated five weeks?
The situation may seem bad now, but we may come to regret holding an election on this one issue alone.