Johnson mulls snap election as MPs seek to block no-deal Brexit

Britain's Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson leaves offices in Central London, Britain, 22 July 2019. [Will Oliver/EPA/EFE]

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is moving closer to calling a snap election this week if UK lawmakers adopt legislation aimed at preventing a No Deal Brexit.

Lawmakers are expected to table legislation on Tuesday (3 September) requiring the Prime Minister to seek a 6-month Brexit extension if he cannot secure a deal. Around 20 MPs from Johnson’s Conservative party, which has a governing majority of one, have stated that they are prepared to risk being expelled from the party by voting in favour of the legislation.

Johnson has called an unscheduled cabinet meeting for Monday evening, after which he is expected to address Conservative MPs. His team is considering calling an election if the legislation is adopted, with the poll likely to be held in early November, just days after the UK is due to officially leave the EU on 31 October.

On Monday afternoon, a government spokesman said that it would treat tomorrow’s vote as “an expression of confidence in the government’s negotiating position to secure a deal and will be treated as such.”

The meetings will start another week of expected high political and constitutional drama in Westminster.

Last week, Johnson’s government announced plans to suspend Parliament for five weeks from 9 September until 14 October. The Prime Minister’s rationale is that his administration needs a new Queen’s Speech to launch its legislative agenda, which requires a parliamentary recess. However, it also reduces the amount of time for lawmakers to scrutinize his Brexit plans, and to prevent the UK from leaving the EU without a deal.

Under the UK’s Fixed Term Parliament Act, the only ways to bring forward the next election, due in 2022, are if two thirds of MPs agree to an election or if the government loses a confidence vote and cannot be replaced by a new administration. Following a campaign event on Monday, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that he would back an election “in any circumstances”.

Opinion polls have continued to give the Conservatives a lead of between 5 and 10% over Labour, and Johnson’s aides believe that they can win an election by framing it as ‘People vs Parliament’.

However, there are fears among MPs that they could agree to a poll date in October, only for Johnson to delay the election until after Brexit day.

“I say ‘bring it on’…but it must be before Oct 31,” tweeted Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who leads the Scottish National Party.

Johnson has set his sights on persuading EU leaders to agree to a revised Brexit deal at an EU summit on 17 October, based around replacing the Irish backstop with ‘alternative arrangements’ to avoid the return of a hard border. However, he insists that the UK will leave the bloc without a deal on 31 October if the EU refuses to compromise.

A European Commission spokesperson told reporters on Monday that EU officials were still yet to receive proposals outlining an alternative to the Irish backstop, but that talks between EU and UK officials were ongoing.

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