EU edges toward Brexit delay as Boris Johnson faces vote on election
Prime Minister Boris Johnson stepped up pressure for an early UK election, seeking to break the impasse over Brexit while the European Union considers another delay in a divorce he wants to expedite.
The two strands converge Monday with a vote in the House of Commons that Johnson looks unlikely to win and talks among EU diplomats in Brussels, where the option of a three-month Brexit extension from the Oct. 31 exit date may be approved. The French are ready to drop their opposition to the plan, according to Politico.
Stymied two times in his quest for an early general election, Johnson accused opponents of holding the UK “hostage” by refusing to support his agenda for leaving the EU based on a draft exit deal sealed this month.
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn reiterated Sunday he would not support the government’s bid for an early election on Dec. 12 unless a no-deal Brexit is completely ruled out -- and said that would require more of a guarantee than just a three-month extension by the EU. Labour’s stance suggests Johnson will fall short of the two-thirds majority he needs in Parliament.
A draft proposal under consideration by EU diplomats would delay Brexit until Jan. 31 with an option for the UK to leave earlier -- on Nov. 30 or Dec. 31 -- if both sides ratify the divorce deal in time.
Without Labour votes, the government’s options are limited under the Fixed-Term Parliament Act, which prevents Johnson from moving up the next election scheduled for 2022 without the support of 434 MPs.
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Amid the party maneuvering, the government will consider “all options” to trigger an election if Parliament continues to block Brexit, a UK official said Sunday.
Earlier, the Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party presented a proposal to secure an early election via an amendment to the fixed-term law, which could be passed by simply majority. The two parties, both strongly in favor of staying in the EU, offered to back the bill if the election were set for Dec. 9, three days before Johnson’s preferred date.
The Liberal Democrats and the SNP could gain from an election held before Brexit is delivered. An earlier date would make it more likely that students, who are among the most pro-EU voters and a natural constituency for both parties, will still be at their universities to cast ballots.
Government ministers rejected the proposal. Conservative Party Chairman James Cleverly called it a “gimmick” that opposition parties could use to thwart Brexit by stopping Parliament from debating the divorce deal.
“They have obviously made it clear that they have no intention of wanting Brexit to be done, no intention of wanting the Withdrawal Bill,” Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan told Sky News. “It is important for the sake of the country that we bring this uncertainty to an end.”
Labour, which has been criticized by some of its MPs for not matching the Liberal Democrats’ full-throated opposition to Brexit, joined the government in ruling out the plan.
Corbyn said the Liberal Democrat move was a “stunt” and that his party’s stance on an early general election has not changed.
“The reality is that we have got to have no-deal completely off the table and the whole threat removed before anything else because of the danger to our economy, to jobs, to trade, to medical supplies,” Corbyn told the BBC.
The EU’s draft extension rules out any further negotiations on the withdrawal agreement, and also isn’t guaranteed to be agreed by all member states. French President Emmanuel Macron blocked the EU’s attempt on Friday to delay Brexit for three months, insisting on a one-month delay to Nov. 30.
Johnson’s government hasn’t laid out a Plan B if it fails to secure an election on Monday, though Johnson’s office has previously said it would focus on its domestic agenda rather than trying again to ratify the Brexit deal. It said the legislation needed to do that is paused, linking its restart to MPs’ support for an early election.
Parliament’s fragmentation over Brexit could give rise to an alternative maneuver: the opposition or Johnson himself could trigger a no-confidence vote in the government, which requires a simply majority to succeed.
Party leaders then would have 14 days to form a new government that can win a confidence vote with Johnson’s Conservatives given the first shot as the party with the most seats. But Labour could also try, or some sort of national unity government might be formed.
If no government can win a vote after 14 days, Parliament is said to be dissolved and a general election is scheduled.
The SNP’s leader in Westminster, Ian Blackford, made it clear that his party was prepared to seek a confidence vote if necessary to remove the Tories from office.
Given the risks, Johnson was still trying to focus MPs’ minds on Monday’s vote.
Parliament has “run its course” and must agree to a Dec. 12 election, he said in comments released Saturday. “If they refuse this timetable -- if they refuse to go the extra mile to complete Brexit -- then I will have no choice but to conclude that they are not really sincere in their desire to get Brexit done.”