The SNP would welcome a general election before Christmas, Nicola Sturgeon has said, as the UK awaits a decision from Brussels on how long a Brexit delay the EU will offer.
The First Minister said she would be “very happy” for the country to go to the polls in December.
However, she refused to confirm whether the SNP would work with the Conservatives to bring about an election, by bringing forward a motion of no confidence if Labour does not, or supporting a motion to get around the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.
It came amid growing confusion over the position of both the main parties, with Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn publicly declaring they want a general election while holding private talks on passing Brexit legislation to clear the way for the UK to leave the EU.
Downing Street claims Parliament 'broken'
Downing Street sought to ramp up pressure to go to the polls, claiming that parliament was “broken” after MPs voted on Tuesday to scrap the government’s timetable to leave the EU on 31 October.
The Prime Minister spoke with EU Council president Donald Tusk and German Chancellor Angela Merkel by phone yesterday, telling both that Brexit should go ahead on 31 October.
But a Number 10 source admitted that it “looks like” Brussels will offer an extension until 31 January.
“In that point we know what will always happen: this broken Parliament will always vote for delay rather than a deal,” the source said.
“Therefore if this Parliament is unwilling to vote for a deal then we will have to go for a general election.”
Corbyn, Johnson meet for talks
It emerged that Mr Johnson and Mr Corbyn and their senior aides met for talks on agreeing a new timetable for the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which was ‘paused’ on Tuesday following a government defeat on its programme motion.
A Labour spokeswoman said Mr Corbyn had offered to “agree a reasonable timetable to debate, scrutinise and amend the Withdrawal Agreement Bill”.
But a Conservative Party source claimed Mr Corbyn “made clear he has no policy except more delays and to spend 2020 having referendums” – a reference to the Labour leader opening the door to allowing a second Scottish independence referendum.
A Downing Street source added: “I do not expect any further talks.”
Divisions within Downing Street
There are understood to be growing divisions within Downing Street over whether to seek an election. The Prime Minister’s senior adviser Dominic Cummings is reported to have forcefully made the case for a vote in the meeting with Labour, with other senior aides including Eddie Lister – Mr Johnson’s former chief of staff in the London Mayor’s Office – more reluctant.
Meanwhile, scores of Labour MPs are understood to have approached their whips warning they cannot support an early general election with the party trailing in the polls.
The government would need to secure two-thirds support in the Commons to call an election. It could also bring a motion that would only need a simple majority – however, this could be amended, with Labour MPs threatening to force a reduction in the voting age to 16.
Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said Labour would back a general election if EU leaders agree to a Brexit delay into next year.
“If the EU responds by agreeing an extension of a number of months that means that Boris Johnson in that time can’t push us out through a no-deal Brexit,” he said.
A formal announcement from the EU could come by Friday if there is consensus, with ambassadors from member states meeting last night to begin the process of discussing the UK’s request.
However, with the French government opposing a long delay until the end of January, a special summit could be called for Monday if there is no decision.
Irish PM supportive of delay
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told the parliament in Dublin he is supportive of the request for a delay, and that Mr Tusk is recommending that the EU27 “accept an extension until January 31 that could be terminated early if the House of Commons and House of Lords ratifies an agreement”.
“I agreed to that but that’s not yet agreed by the 27 and we may have to have an emergency European Council over the course of the next few days to discuss it if he can’t get consensus,” he said yesterday.
Election once longer extension 'nailed down'
At a joint press conference in London with the Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford, Ms Sturgeon said there should be an election as soon as an extension until the end of January is “nailed down”.
“I want to see a general election,” she said. “I would be very happy to see that general election before Christmas but the circumstances of that have to be such that it doesn’t open the risk of a no-deal Brexit.
“And I think all responsible opposition MPs who want to see an election have a duty to make sure that that is the case.”
The First Minister said any extension to the UK’s EU departure should “be long enough to allow a general election or a referendum, or perhaps more realistically, the former leading to the latter”.