The Prime Minister insisted on Monday evening “I don’t want an election, you don’t want an election” but made it clear he would not seek the extension to the Brexit deadline demanded by the cross-party alliance if he fails to secure a deal.
But a senior UK Government official later briefed reporters that if MPs take control of the Commons order paper on Tuesday to stop a no-deal, Mr Johnson would table a dissolution motion under the Fixed Term Parliament Act for a snap general election on Monday, October 14.
Such a motion would require the support of two-thirds of MPs to pass and could lead to the first UK-wide poll not to be held on a Thursday since 1931.
Commons Leader and arch-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg described the showdown when MPs return from their summer break as “essentially a confidence matter”.
In a statement in Downing Street following an unscheduled Cabinet meeting, Mr Johnson urged his MPs not to join Jeremy Corbyn in backing a “pointless” delay.
But the Conservative leader had to contend with the noise of protesters at the gates of Downing Street as he delivered his statement at the now familiar lectern outside No 10.
In his statement, the PM claimed that if MPs voted against the Government and backed the cross-party Bill they would “chop the legs” out from under the UK’s position in negotiating a deal with the EU.
He said: “I say, to show our friends in Brussels that we are united in our purpose, MPs should vote with the Government against Corbyn’s pointless delay.
“I want everybody to know there are no circumstances in which I will ask Brussels to delay. We are leaving on October 31, no ifs or buts.”
The Prime Minister claimed the chances of a Brexit deal are rising and he was “encouraged by the progress we are making” with Brussels.
Former chancellor Philip Hammond and ex-justice secretary David Gauke are among the senior Tories who have put their name to cross-party legislation which the group hopes to push through the Commons this week.
If MPs agree on Tuesday to allow the cross-party group to seize control of Commons business, the legislation will be considered the following day.
Under the terms of the proposed law, the Government must seek a delay to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU until January 31, 2020 if there is no agreement with Brussels in place by October 19 and Parliament has not approved a no-deal Brexit.
Nicola Sturgeon said it was “plainly obvious” from his statement that Mr Johnson had “no plan to get a deal”.
She added: “If MPs blink (when the cross-party bill is voted on), he will drive the UK off the no deal cliff on 31 October. He must not get away with it.”
Jeremy Corbyn, who has repeatedly called for a general election, visited Salford on Monday to offer Leave voters a vision to transform Britain as he pledged to block a no-deal Brexit.
The Labour leader claimed Johnson’s “dictatorial approach” to Parliament, said Leave-voting areas had suffered from austerity and decades of lack of investment.
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott later told a rally at the Lowry theatre in Salford: “We are here today at a pivotal political moment, a crucial moment in our political history as a country and it’s not about Brexit, it is not about whether you voted to leave or remain, it’s about what sort of country you want this to be.”
She described Mr Johnson as a “rotten prime minister” adding: “The sooner we get him out the better.”
Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, speaking on LBC Radio last night, said: “The big message here is Boris Johnson wants the Withdrawal Agreement.
“He wants Mrs May’s Withdrawal Agreement, but minus the backstop.
“And if he does get voted down in the House of Commons, which I have to say, looking at the Tory rebels who are beginning to stand up, does look quite likely to me, then there will be a general election.
“Do I think it is acceptable that a general election could be held on the basis that he goes back to Brussels to get the Withdrawal Agreement? Well I absolutely don’t.”
“Given there is less than 60 days to go to that right now, no-deal is the best deal.”
Amid fevered speculation that a general election could be called, the pound sunk by around one per cent against the US dollar.
Even after the Prime Minister walked back through the door to 10 Downing Street following his speech, the pound did not recover and continued to trade at levels rarely seen since 1985.
David Cheetham, chief market analyst at XTB, explained: “The pound has been in a steady drift lower throughout the day and has fallen by around 1% against the US dollar to once more trade near the 1.20 dollar handle and languish not far from multi-decade lows.
“Generally speaking an election brings raised levels of uncertainty and is therefore negative near-term for the currency, but there’s also another effect at play here.”
He also suggested that there could be a recovery if an election takes place and returns a surge in support for remaining in the EU and a second referendum.