Opposition parties set to reject Boris Johnson's election call

Boris Johnson. Picture: PA
Boris Johnson. Picture: PA
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Opposition parties have pledged to block Boris Johnson’s bid for a snap election after the Prime Minister called on MPs they could no longer “hold the country hostage” over Brexit.

Mr Johnson offered MPs extra week to scrutinise and amend legislation to implement his Brexit deal if parliament agreed to an election 12 December.

But opposition parties accused the Prime Minister of laying a trap, with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn saying he will only back Boris Johnson’s offer of a general election when a no-deal Brexit is “off the table”.

The EU is expected to respond to the formal request for an extension of the current 31 October Brexit deadline this morning - although Brussels may not hold off until after MPs decide whether to go to the polls.

The government will bring forward a motion to hold an election under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act on Monday, requiring a two-thirds majority to be approved. The Budget, which had been scheduled for 6 November, was cancelled last night.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon posted on Twitter: “Johnson appears to be saying to MPs, ‘if you vote for an election, I’ll bring back my bad Brexit bill and try to drag us out of the EU before we go to the polls’.

“Elections should be exercises in letting voters decide, not devices for charlatans to get their own way.”

The Prime Minister held a meeting of his political cabinet yesterday evening, and afterwards told journalists: “The way to get Brexit done is to be reasonable with parliament and say, if they genuinely want more time to study this excellent deal, they can have it, but they have to agree to an election on 12 December.

“That’s the way forward, because this parliament has been going on for a long time without a majority, it’s refusing to deliver Brexit [and] it’s impossible to deliver legislation.

“It’s time, frankly, that the opposition summoned up the nerve to submit themselves to the judgement of our collective boss, which is the people of the UK.”

Mr Johnson also sent a letter to Mr Corbyn in which he admitted that his ‘do or die’ pledge to take the UK out of the EU by 31 October would be broken.

The Prime Minister warned that the UK “cannot risk further paralysis” and promised to “make available all possible time between now and 6 November for the WAB [Withdrawal Agreement Bill] to be discussed and voted through, including Fridays, weekends, the earliest starts and the latest finishes.”

He added: “If Parliament refuses to take this chance and fails to ratify by the end of 6 November, as I fear it will, then the issue will have to be resolved by a new Parliament.

“An election on 12 December will allow a new Parliament and Government to be in place by Christmas.”

Mr Johnson concluded: “Parliament cannot continue to hold the country hostage.”

Mr Corbyn held informal discussions with his shadow cabinet last night on Labour’s response. Scores of his MPs are understood to have lobbied party whips against backing an election, with Labour trailing behind the Conservatives in the polls.

READ MORE: How much longer can Brexit go on for?

But the party has also come under pressure from activists in Momentum, the group that supported Mr Corbyn’s leadership campaign, to back an election.

In an interview, last night the Labour leader said: “Take no-deal off the table and we absolutely support a general election.

“I’ve been calling for an election ever since the last one because this country needs one to deal with all the social injustice issues - but no-deal must be taken off the table.”

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson also said her party would not back an election until it was clear a no-deal Brexit had been ruled out.

“Boris Johnson is trying to distract from his Government’s failure,” she said.

“He has missed his do-or-die deadline and is now demanding that Parliament give him a general election and the time to ram through his Bill without proper scrutiny.

“The Liberal Democrats will not support any election until it is clear that we can avoid crashing out with no deal, and that needs an extension from the EU.”

EU leaders are expected to offer a three-month extension until 31 January this morning, with the option of the UK leaving earlier on 15 January if a Brexit deal is ratified. French President Emmanuel Macron has pushed for a shorter delay to keep up pressure on MPs.

Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg revealed the snap election bid moments after the government won a vote on its Queen’s Speech - which sets out legislative plans that will be abandoned if MPs agree to go to the polls.

His Labour opposite number Valerie Vaz said Labour would only back an election once no-deal is ruled out and “if the extension allows”.

Mr Rees-Mogg said the government was “willing to work 24 hours a day between now and 6 November” to hammer out a Brexit deal.

He also taunted the SNP, claiming it was “saddening that ‘Scotland the brave’ used to be the call but now it is ‘Scotland the runaway,’ ‘Scotland the let’s not have an election’.

A Number 10 source repeated a previous threat to pull the Withdrawal Agreement Bill if MPs refuse their timetable and instead “campaign at every stage and at every opportunity for a general election”.

On two previous occasions in September, Labour blocked an attempt by the Prime Minister to call an election, warning that it could allow the UK to tumble out of the EU without a deal during the campaign.

There are understood to be divisions within Downing Street over the government’s strategy, with Mr Johnson’s top aide Dominic Cummings urging an election, while cabinet members including Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith warning of the risks of going to the polls.

Scottish Tory MPs in particular have voiced concerns about a winter election taking place in Remain-voting Scotland, without Brexit having been resolved.

Last night the SNP MP Angus MacNeil said: “We’ve got a very dangerous Prime Minister at the moment in a cage.

“He’s caged by parliament and we’d be unwise to let him out at least until we’ve removed some of his teeth.”