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Frustrated with Parliament’s recent vote to slow down the government’s new Brexit deal, Boris Johnson has this evening called for an election. He wants the country to vote on December 12th.
The move has caused some disquiet among moderate Conservative MPs who thought Johnson would reintroduce the Withdrawal Agreement Bill next week. But discussion of the WAB appears to be conditional on Labour voting for an election. That needs a two thirds majority. It is unclear which way Labour will go.
Although the WAB was stalled this week it had also managed to garner a majority in favour of its second reading, 329 to 299, which many saw as setting it on the path to eventually passing.
However, the Benn Act forced the government to request a further extension to the withdrawal period from the EU. This was something Boris Johnson had wanted to avoid at all costs having staked a great deal of political capital on leaving by the 31 October come what may. The result was a strange situation where Boris Johnson sent the letter requesting the extension laid out in the bill but refused to sign it, and sent another letter making clear his desire the EU not offer a further extension.
Still, Johnson is not satisfied having his options reduced to political theatre. Having faced repeated defeats in the Commons it seems he has decided this situation is unworkable. Johnson is banking on a new election delivering him a strong working majority, likely buoyed by recent strong polling for the Conservatives, and is willing to make his peace with a longer period of deliberation over the Withdrawal Bill if Parliament will grant him this.
In a letter to Jeremy Corbyn requesting that the Labour leader back his call for an election Johnson stated.
“If you commit to voting for an election in the nest week […], then we will make available all possible time between now and 6 November for the WAB to be discussed and voted through, including Fridays, weekends, the earliest starts and the latest finishes.
This means that we could get Brexit done on 12 December, if MPs choose to do so.
But if Parliament refuses to this chance and fails to ratify by the end of the 6 November, as I fear it will, then the issues will have to be resolved by a new Parliament and Government to be in place by Christmas.
This Parliament has refused to take decisions. It cannot refuse to let the voter replace it with a new Parliament that can make decisions. Prolonging this paralysis into 2020 would have dangerous consequences for business, jobs and basic confidence in democratic institutions, already badly damaged by the behaviour of Parliament since the referendum. Parliament cannot continue to hold the country hostage.”
This sets up a stand-off. Corbyn will be under pressure from many Labour MPs to avoid an election at any cost. Labour may even rule it out this evening if shadow cabinet backs that stance. But Boris will have to explain to parts of his own party why he seems suddenly so reluctant to get on with the WAB and getting out.
Johnson’s supporters will cast it as another bold move designed to force a reckoning.
The EU announces its terms for an extension tomorrow.