A general election could be held on 9 December after Downing Street hinted it might back a Bill being pushed by the SNP and Liberal Democrats to hold an election if the European Union agrees to extend Brexit until the end of January.
Boris Johnson’s motion calling for a general election on 12 December is expected to fall today, his ninth Commons vote defeat since he became Prime Minister, as it is unlikely he will be able to secure a two-thirds majority of MPs to vote in favour.
Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, with the backing of SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford, is then expected to table a one-line Bill that would amend the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act and enshrine a 9 December election in law – but only once an extension
to the Brexit deadline to the end of January has been secured.
The Bill will need just a simple majority to pass. While it was officially branded a “gimmick” by Tory chairman James Cleverly and a “stunt” by culture secretary Nicky Morgan, a Downing Street source yesterday said the Government was prepared to look at other options should its plans for an election fail.
The Prime Minister had announced on Thursday that MPs could have more time to debate his Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) as long as they vote for a general election on 12 December.
Yesterday Mr Cleverly said the Government would not listen to “two parties who have explicitly said they want to stop Brexit from happening”. “We’re not going to be complicit in them stopping Brexit from happening,” he
But a No.10 source said that if today’s vote for an election on 12 December failed, they would look at other options.
The source said: “If Labour oppose being held to account by the people yet again, then we will look at all options to get Brexit done, including ideas similar to that proposed by other opposition parties.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has also called the Lib Dem and SNP move a “stunt”, but his shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said yesterday that Labour would back a general election if Boris Johnson “categorically” gave Parliament “a commitment that whatever happens, he will not take Britain out of the EU without a deal”.
The EU27 leaders meet today to decide on the length of an Article 50 extension, after Mr Johnson was forced to comply with the Benn Act and ask for more time.
Both Mr Blackford and Ms Swinson have also jointly written to European Council president Donald Tusk seeking a meaningful extension to the Article 50 negotiating period, so the risk of a no-deal Brexit is removed.
Yesterday Ms Swinson said her Bill would resolve the current “impasse”.
She said: “It would set the date for the next election on 9 December, but crucially it would be conditional on there being an extension to Article 50 which would mean ‘no deal’ was taken off the table.
“One of the big concerns many people have had about going into a general election has been the fear that we would crash out of the EU without a deal, either during that election or in the immediate aftermath. And our Bill removes that threat.”
She added: “The advantage of this Bill is it enshrines the date in the law, and we know that ultimately when push comes to shove, he has been forced to obey the law, whether that was on recalling Parliament or whether that was on sending that letter to request the extension.”
Mr Blackford said SNP MPs would reject Mr Johnson’s election motion today as it sought to “allow him to force through his devastating Brexit deal and take the UK out of the EU”.
“We will not be bullied by this Prime Minister and we will not play his games,” he said.
But Mr Blackford added: “The SNP is prepared to back a Bill that seeks to bring forward an early general election on Monday 9 December once an extension to the Brexit deadline to 31 January 2020 has been secured.”
Ms Abbott said the party was “up for an election”, but that Ms Swinson’s Bill was “problematic” as Parliament cannot “dictate to the EU what length of extension they want to give, we have to hear from them”.
But she said Labour would back a general election if Mr Johnson “categorically” gives “a commitment that whatever happens he will not take Britain out of the EU without a deal”.