Archive for the ‘Poll’ Category

Opposition parties agree to block October Brexit election

LONDON — U.K. opposition MPs agreed that Boris Johnson must bring into force a Brexit extension before they will back a general election.

The decision means that Johnson will not win the two-thirds backing for an election that he needs when he brings the issue to a vote for a second time in parliament on Monday. The first attempt to secure backing for an election failed on Wednesday.

Figures from Labour, the Scottish National Party, the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru said a conference call between opposition parties on Friday morning ended with agreement that Johnson must be made to bring into effect legislation that forces him to seek a delay to Brexit if he has no agreement with the EU in place by mid-October.

Labour said MPs discussed “advancing efforts to prevent no-deal Brexit” and to hold an election “once that is secured.”

If there was an election in mid-October, as Johnson wants, it remains a possibility that if he wins a majority, he could override the Brexit extension legislation and take the U.K. out of the EU without a deal on October 31.

The opposition parties now look set to withhold support for an election until after October 19, the day on which, according to the no-deal blocking legislation, Johnson must seek an extension from the EU until January 2020. All the parties insist they still want an election, but their decision means that a national poll now looks unlikely to be held until November at the earliest. Under the U.K.’s Fixed Term Parliaments Act, once a two-thirds majority backs it, an election must be held 25 working days after the dissolution of parliament.

The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford told the BBC: “He should actually withdraw this motion on Monday because it’s going nowhere.”

A Liberal Democrat official said: “There was agreement around the table that Boris can’t be allowed to cut and run. Everybody got to the point that there should be no election until there is a guarantee of Article 50 being extended … Therefore come Monday the government will lose on their vote for a general election and I don’t expect there to be a general election before October 31.”

Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts told the BBC that in October MPs’ “duty … is to be [in parliament] to hold him to account and to make sure that he abides by that law.”

Parliament will be suspended from next week until October 14.

Johnson, who insists he will not ask for a delay to Brexit from the EU (on Thursday he said he would rather be “dead in a ditch”) now must decide whether to abide by the law or seek an election through other means. His options are narrow and he has refused to say whether he would sooner resign than delay Brexit — a course of action which could lead to an election if no alternative government can be formed.

UK NATIONAL PARLIAMENT ELECTION POLL OF POLLS

For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

UK government asks MPs to vote again on holding election

LONDON — The U.K. government will ask MPs to vote again on whether to hold a general election.

Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg said the House of Commons would on Monday debate and vote on “a motion relating to an early parliamentary general election” — the same motion put forward and rejected by MPs on Wednesday. The debate will take place after consideration of amendments from the House of Lords, which is discussing a bill to prevent a no-deal Brexit.

Johnson’s bid for an election on October 15 failed last night after opposition parties refused to back it, arguing they couldn’t trust him not to crash the U.K. out of the EU without a deal during the campaign. An election needs support from two-thirds of MPs.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn indicated he would tell his troops to support an election bid but only once the Brexit-delaying law has passed.

“Let this bill pass, and gain royal assent, then we will back an election so we do not crash out with a no-deal exit from the European Union,” he said Wednesday night.

However, Labour is split over when an election should happen. The majority of its MPs believe a public poll should not be called until after a Brexit extension has been granted. That could take until late October, meaning polling day would not be until November.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “Having chosen to introduce and pass a bill which destroys our negotiating position and seeks to impose an indefinite delay to Brexit, it is elected MPs in the House of Commons who must take responsibility for their actions and face the public in a general election.”

Downing Street officials argue that opposition MPs considering withholding support for an election until after a Brexit extension has come into effect are effectively “saying we don’t trust the public to choose the date on which we leave the EU,” as one official put it.

UK NATIONAL PARLIAMENT ELECTION POLL OF POLLS

For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

Boris Johnson inches closer to a Brexit election gamble

LONDON — British MPs may have refused to back an election at first time of asking — but for Boris Johnson all roads lead to the ballot box.

The prime minister who on Monday said he did not want an election is now out and proud and demanding one on October 15. Opposition parties want one too — but not quite yet.

Several more days of parliamentary game-playing lie ahead, but with his majority now shot to pieces by defections and his own sacking of 21 Conservative MPs who voted against him Tuesday, Johnson is out of options.

Whereas his predecessor Theresa May endured repeated humiliations in search of a compromise, Johnson’s combative attempt to force a resolution has so far left him with a bloody nose. After losing key votes which saw MPs launch a bid to change the law in order to force the prime minister to ask Brussels for a Brexit delay, Johnson risks being unable to deliver on his promise to quit the EU by the end of October without a high-stakes move.

Downing Street has calculated that an election on a Brexit “do or die” ticket will regain a House of Commons majority and enable the prime minister to take the U.K. out of the European Union on whatever terms he wants, including no deal if necessary. They are confident they will get their vote, even if the precise parliamentary route still looks tenuous.

“If parliament is unwilling to put Brexit through an election is the only way to do it … [but if he loses] we will find a way to deliver on what the British people want, which is to deliver Brexit by October 31,” a No. 10 spokesman said.

Johnson, who like David Cameron and Theresa May before him wants to settled the EU question once and for all, could still be remembered as the prime minister who — by gambling it all at the ballot box — lost Brexit.

It’s a high-risk strategy with no guarantees. Any election could result in a majority government determined to take the U.K. out of the EU on October 31 with or without a deal; it could produce a government determined to hold a second referendum, potentially keeping the U.K. in the EU after all. Or it could mean yet more deadlock.

What is certain is that the campaign would be defined from first to last by Brexit and the deep divisions it has opened up in British society. As one of its key actors, Nigel Farage, told emboldened supporters at a rally Wednesday night — far from the debates of Westminster — that the old British party system has become “old hat.”

“We are now Leavers or Remainers — they are the divisions in British politics,” he said.

Election sooner or later 

As expected, MPs on Wednesday rejected Johnson’s first attempt at calling an early election, which he is now openly backing after parliament initiated legislation that would force him to delay Brexit if he has not secured a deal by October 19.

A two-thirds majority is needed in the House of Commons for an early election and the opposition Labour Party will not give their backing until a legal change blocking a no-deal Brexit has gone through, leader Jeremy Corbyn said Wednesday.

Opposition MPs — who have done nothing to hide their contempt for Johnson during two dramatic first days of the new parliamentary term — do not trust him not to fix the date of the election for after the current Brexit date, thereby dragging the U.K. out of the EU with no deal, despite Johnson’s insistence he would go to the polls two weeks before Britain is scheduled to leave. “I have absolutely no faith in anything the current prime minister says,” the Labour MP Jess Phillips said in one of Wednesday’s most impassioned speeches in the House of Commons.

Corbyn’s team is clear he wants an election as soon as no-deal Brexit is taken off the table. Whether that happens this week depends on whether a government attempt to filibuster in the second chamber, the House of Lords, succeeds. Some in Labour are pushing for the party to hold out for longer, until after the Brexit extension mandating a delay until January 2020 has come into force. But one way or another Johnson indicated he would ask Corbyn again soon, calling on Labour to “reflect on what I think is the unsustainability of this position overnight and in the course of the next few days.”

Farage factor 

The key “wildcard” looming over any early election is Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, according to one Johnson-supporting former Cabinet minister.

Farage could yet prove Johnson’s best friend or his worst enemy.

At a rally in Doncaster, in the north of England, on Wednesday night — held as MPs were debating Johnson’s election motion — Farage said he believed an election was inching closer, and laid out what must be a tempting offer for the prime minister, predicting a “massive, massive majority” for a Conservative-Brexit Party pact — but only if Johnson were to commit to a no-deal Brexit as “the only way.”

He heaped praise on Johnson for “having the guts” to sack the 21 Conservative no-deal rebels, to rapturous applause from supporters.

“Politics is changing: An audience in Doncaster clapped Boris Johnson, it’s remarkable!” Farage observed of the crowd in resolutely Labour-voting Doncaster.

If, however, Johnson continues to pursue a deal with the EU — still his public position — Farage has pledged to stand candidates in “every single seat in the country” against him. While Farage — and many Tory MPs — think the Brexit Party could be as damaging to the Labour vote in Leave-voting areas as it is to the Tory vote, the outcome of the European election, where May’s Conservatives fell to fifth place, with Farage topping the poll, looms very large in Johnson’s thinking.

Swinson to the left of me, Farage to the right

But joining with Farage by going hard for no deal is not a fail-safe election strategy for the prime minister.

Doing so could drive potential Conservative voters worried about the impact of no deal into the hands of other parties.

The pro-Remain Liberal Democrats, who are eyeing some key marginal Conservative seats in the south-west of England and elsewhere, are especially bullish, after improved poll performances in May’s local elections and then a second-placed finish behind the Brexit Party in the European election the same month.

The arrival of new leader Jo Swinson has coincided with a membership surge of more than 35,000 since the local elections, and millions of pounds of new funding pledged to party coffers, a Lib Dem official said. The party has gained three MPs in as many months through defections from Labour and the Conservatives, and represents a serious threat to Johnson’s majority.

For pollster Joe Twyman, director of Deltapoll, the Brexit Party and the Lib Dems would be “two sides of the same coin” for Johnson in a battle defined by Brexit.

“The threat to Boris Johnson and the Conservatives is that if he goes too far in one direction or the other on Brexit it alienates voters on the other side … An election is such a gamble because there is no obvious way to please enough of the people enough of the time.”

Labour hopes for 2017 repeat

Labour, lagging well behind the Tories in the polls, also has reason to be nervous about an election. Nevertheless, party officials remain confident that, as in 2017, a campaign focused on policy priorities other than Brexit would enable them to win votes by highlighting years of Conservative austerity, a redistribution of wealth from top earners, and promises of higher funding for public services.

“Ultimately it will be a choice between Boris and [senior adviser Dominic] Cummings with their elitism and total disregard for public services, which stands against everything Leave voters expressed, or Labour Party with a strong detailed manifesto,” one Labour official said.

Johnson’s spending priorities — more money for police, schools, the NHS and social care — set out by Chancellor Sajid Javid in a spending round on Wednesday — is a very deliberate attempt to nix Labour’s case.

The Conservative vote is also extremely vulnerable in Scotland. YouGov polling this week predicted Johnson could lose 10 of the party’s 13 seats north of the border, with Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party set to gain from concern about no deal in a country that voted 62 to 38 to Remain in 2016.

“There are certain areas of the country that are Remain-leaning. London, Scotland, large metropolitan cities, university towns …  If the Conservatives don’t pick up enough of those seats it’s really difficult to see where the majority comes from,” Twyman said.

Crucially Labour, the SNP and the Liberal Democrats all back a second referendum on Brexit. If an election is held in October, by the new year the U.K. could be gearing up for such a vote.

Or, if just a few key marginal seats go in a different direction, by then the U.K. could have left the EU, with or without a deal.

For Johnson and for the U.K., it is the ultimate roll of the dice.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium Brexit service for professionals: Brexit Pro. To test our expert policy coverage of the implications and next steps per industry, email [email protected] for a complimentary trial.

UK MPs back bill to block no-deal Brexit

LONDON — U.K. MPs backed a bill to block a no-deal Brexit Wednesday and prepared to vote on whether to call a general election.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the House of Commons had “scuppered” his negotiations with the EU and it should be up to the country to decide “whether that is right.”

But opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, alongside other opposition leaders, refused to back an election until the Brexit delay officially becomes law. Under U.K. law, two-thirds of MPs would need to back a snap election for one to take place.

The vote comes the day after Johnson’s government suffered a heavy defeat as MPs backed a plan to seize control of the parliamentary timetable — something usually controlled by the government — in order to enable them to block a no-deal Brexit. The prime minister will now push for a general election in the hope of winning a majority and regaining control of the Brexit process.

The bill, which if passed by the House of Lords will force Johnson to request a Brexit extension to January 31 next year, was backed in the Commons with a majority of 28.

But before it was passed, an amendment was added in a moment of bizarre House of Commons procedure, which would allow MPs a vote on a tweaked version of the deal clinched by Theresa May. The amendment passed because there were no tellers — MPs appointed to count the votes.

The amendment, laid by Labour MP Stephen Kinnock and backed by 17 of his colleagues, would make passing the tweaked May deal government policy. That deal, which included a Commons vote on a second EU referendum, was hammered out after days of talks with the opposition Labour party but the former prime minister was forced to resign before it could be put to a vote.

After the bill passed its final Commons stage, Johnson implored MPs to back his motion for a general election, insisting he would never ask Brussels for a Brexit delay.

“The country must now decide whether the Leader of the Opposition [Jeremy Corbyn] or I goes to the negotiations in Brussels on October 17 to sort this out,” he said. “Everybody will know that if the right honorable gentleman were to go there … he would beg for an extension, he would accept whatever Brussels demands. And then we would have years more dither and delay, yet more arguments over Brexit and no resolution to the uncertainty that currently bedevils this country and our economy.”

He added: “I don’t want an election, the public don’t want an election, the country doesn’t want an election but this house has left no other option for letting the public decide who they want as prime minister.”

But Corbyn shot back: “The offer of an election today is a bit like the offer of an apple to Snow White from the Wicked Queen. What he is offering is not an apple of the election but the poison of a no-deal. Let this bill pass, and gain royal assent, then we will back an election so we do not crash out with a no-deal exit from the European Union.”

One MP said Labour was split over when it should back an election. Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer is said to favor holding one after the October 31 Brexit date, while Corbyn is said to favor a public poll as soon as the bill forcing a Brexit delay is passed.

The bill will be debated in the House of Lords on Thursday and must be completed on Monday at the latest to avoid being scuppered by the impending suspension of parliament. Peers launched into a marathon debate on Wednesday over whether to impose a time limit on its assessment of the Brexit delay bill.

Tory peers tabled dozens of amendments in a bid to filibuster the discussion, with the House expected to sit until the early hours of the morning. A Labour official in the Lords said: “I left the house this morning with a change of clothes and toiletries and everything.”

They insisted the government was “complicit” in the filibustering of the debate, but a Downing Street spokesman said what happened in the Lords was a question for the Lords.

At a meeting of Conservative parliamentarians, one pro-Brexit MP, Daniel Kawczynski, told Johnson he should guarantee that the whip will never be restored to 21 Tory rebels who voted against their own government to allow time for the delay bill. On Wednesday night they were banned from standing as Tory candidates at the next election.

But Kawczynski said he was shouted down by colleagues, who demanded the whip be restored to the rebels. A Downing Street source insisted MPs had been warned of the consequences before the vote on Tuesday. But they said other Tories who voted against the government on the actual bill stages would not lose the whip. In the end, Tory MP Caroline Spelman was the only extra rebel.

Earlier, Chancellor Sajid Javid was accused of laying out a “grubby electioneering stunt” by his Labour counterpart John McDonnell as he announced a one-year spending review full of promises designed to put pressure on the opposition.

In another sign that Johnson’s government is gearing up for an election, Javid declared the “end of austerity” as he revealed that no government department will be cut in 2020-2021, announcing an overall increase in spending of £13.8 billion compared to the current year.

Sajid Javid promises ‘end of austerity’ with one eye on election

LONDON — Boris Johnson finally admitted he wants a general election, and his spending plans really gave the game away.

His chancellor, Sajid Javid, announced a spending round on Wednesday that laid the groundwork for an autumn campaign. Javid declared the “end of austerity” as he revealed that no government department will be cut in 2020-2021, announcing an overall increase in spending of £13.8 billion compared to the current year.

And he dropped a clear hint that the fiscal rules which were imposed to keep the spending taps tightened are set to be changed in the coming months.

As Johnson watched on and heckled the opposition, Javid laid out an unusual single-year spending round, saying he was “clearing the decks” for departments ahead of the October 31 Brexit date.

But the Tories clearly had another thing on their minds: How to fight Labour at the general election Britain is racing toward.

Javid was even told off twice by Commons Speaker John Bercow for “veering into matters … unrelated to the spending round” by attacking Labour.

When he finally moved onto the detail, the chancellor said he was delivering the “fastest increase in day to day spending in 15 years” at 4.1 percent across government offices, plus an extra £2 billion to prepare for a no-deal Brexit.

“I can announce today that no department will be cut next year,” he told the Commons. “Every single government department has had its budget for day-to-day spending increased at least in line with inflation. That’s what I mean by the end of austerity. Britain’s hard work paying off.”

The Home Office was handed a 6.7 percent real-terms increase in spending, including £750 million to fund the recruitment of police officers next year.

He announced a 6.2 percent increase for the NHS and an extra £1.5 billion for councils to cope with social care.

And the Department for Education will get £7.1 billion more by 2022-2023 compared with this year, Javid said, with each secondary school getting an extra £5,000 for every pupil.

Javid also announced he would review the “fiscal framework” — a set of rules imposed by former Chancellor George Osborne and updated by his successor Philip Hammond to keep spending tight — ahead of a budget next year.

The rules require the government to balance the books by the mid-2020s and to ensure debt is falling as a share of GDP by the end of the current parliament.

Javid’s spending review keeps within those restrictions, the Treasury insisted, because they are set against national forecasts published in March. But his plan to loosen the rules shows a clear desire to turn the spending taps on soon.

Paul Johnson, the boss of the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank, pointed out that thanks to updated growth figures, Javid would probably not be keeping to the rules.

Johnson added that despite the new announcements, spending in most departments will remain well below 2010 levels. And he warned that a no-deal Brexit and economic slowdown would probably mean “another dose of austerity to deal with renewed deficit.”

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell told Javid to send a message to top Downing Street adviser Dominic Cummings: “Do not insult the intelligence of the British people.”

“The people will see today’s statement as the grubby electioneering stunt that it is. This is not a spending review as we know it. It is straight out of the [election strategist] Lynton Crosby handbook,” McDonnell said, dubbing it “opinion poll politics.”

Johnson admits he does ‘want an election’ after all

LONDON — Boris Johnson admitted he wants a general election, undermining his earlier argument that he’d only push for one after being forced into it by opposition parties trying to stop a no-deal Brexit.

Speaking at his first prime minister’s questions (PMQs) session in the House of Commons, Johnson responded to criticism from the Scottish National Party’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford by saying: “I’m a democrat because I not only want to respect the will of the people in respect to the referendum, but I also want to have an election.”

He quickly corrected himself, adding: “Or I’m also willing to have an election if the … [opposition] bill goes through.” However, the slip will make it harder for him to argue to the British people that he is only reluctantly asking them to vote in a fourth major national poll in four years.

Johnson said in the House of Commons as recently as Tuesday evening: “I don’t want an election, the public don’t want an election.” However his Brexit strategy thus far has led to suspicion that his goal all along has been to force a national vote.

UK NATIONAL PARLIAMENT ELECTION POLL OF POLLS

For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

In a bruising first PMQs, Johnson also faced strong criticism from some of the ex-Conservative MPs he removed from the party’s parliamentary ranks on Tuesday, in punishment for their support of the opposition plan, and was forced to defend past comments about women who wear the burqa.

Opposition MPs applauded Sikh Labour MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi after he criticized the prime minister’s August 2018 Daily Telegraph column in which he said women who wear the burqa resembled “a bank robber” or “letterboxes.”

“For those of us who from a young age have had to endure and face up to being called names such as ‘towel head, ‘or ‘Taliban’ or coming from ‘bongo bongo land,’ we can appreciate full well the hurt and pain felt by already vulnerable Muslim women when they are described as looking like ‘bank robbers’ and ‘letterboxes,'” Dhesi said, calling for Johnson to apologize and to launch an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party — something he committed to during the leadership campaign this summer.

Johnson responded that the article as a whole had been a “a strong liberal defense” of everyone’s right to wear what they like in the U.K. and said he had appointed the “most diverse Cabinet in the history of this country.”

MPs applauded again, however, when former minister Margot James, who voted against the government on Tuesday and has had the Conservative whip withdrawn, appealed to Johnson to heed Margaret Thatcher’s advice that “advisers advise, ministers decide” in relation to his senior adviser Dominic Cummings, who MPs suspect had a key role in the hardline stance against Brexit rebels.

Johnson condemned Tuesday’s vote, which paved the way for MPs to put forward a backbench bill requiring a Brexit delay should no deal be in place by October 19. He called the planned legislation a “surrender bill” and accused Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and other opponents of undermining his negotiation with the EU toward a new Brexit deal.

Corbyn hit back: “I fail to see how I can be accused of undermining negotiations because there are no negotiations taking place.”

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium Brexit service for professionals: Brexit Pro. To test our expert policy coverage of the implications and next steps per industry, email [email protected] for a complimentary trial.

What’s next as Brexit showdown hits House of Commons

LONDON — Boris Johnson wants to take the U.K. out of the European Union — deal or no deal — on October 31. A large number of U.K. lawmakers stand in his way.

After years of posturing and weeks of positioning, British MPs are preparing to make their move Tuesday. The British prime minister is poised to counterattack on Wednesday.

This battle is the latest chapter in an ideological standoff that predates the June 2016 referendum as Britain wrestles with itself to define what kind of country it wants to be after breaking with its Continental neighbors. Whereas Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, was determined to navigate the storm without splitting the Conservative Party, Britain’s new prime minister seems hell-bent on pushing to breaking point those who disagree with his belief that the electorate will not forgive the Tories if they fail to deliver Brexit in October.

Here is POLITICO’s guide to how events in Westminster could play out in the coming days.

Change the law to force a delay

MPs opposed to quitting the EU without a deal have put forward legislation to force the prime minister to ask for a three-month extension to negotiations if a deal is not agreed between the EU and the U.K. by October’s European Council.

MPs will on Tuesday apply to take control of the schedule of the House of Commons — usually set by the government — in a bid to turn the proposals in the private member’s bill into law.

Hilary Benn, a senior Labour MP and one of those behind the plan, said it “gave the government time either to reach a new agreement with the European Union at the European Council meeting next month, or to seek parliament’s specific consent to leave the EU without a deal.”

If neither condition has been met by October 19, the prime minister must send a letter to the president of the European Council requesting an extension to negotiations until January 31, 2020.

The prime minister would then be forced to immediately accept an extension until January 31, 2020 if the Council agrees to one or, should the Council propose a different date, accept that period within two days unless this plan is rejected by the House of Commons.

Former Tory ministers Alistair Burt, Philip Hammond and David Gauke have all put their names to the bill, demonstrating there is cross-party support — but is there enough?

Do they have the numbers?

If the bill is to become law, there needs to be a majority of MPs willing to support it. That will rely on Conservatives defying party whips, and threats of deselection.

Downing Street upped the ante Monday night, threatening rebellious Tory MPs with a general election on October 14 if they attempt to change the law to prevent the U.K. from leaving the European Union without a deal.

Boris Johnson warned in a speech outside 10 Downing Street that such a bill would make negotiations “absolutely impossible.”

While the prime minister insisted he does not want to call a general election, senior officials later said that if it loses the vote on Tuesday, the government would push for one on October 14.

A person close to the rebels said that while the numbers would be “quite tight,” they were “quietly confident” they had enough support in the House of Commons, despite the election threat.

Former Justice Secretary David Gauke had earlier told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show that he would be prepared to lose his job to block no deal. “I have to put what I consider to be the national interest first,” he said.

Back to the people

If enough Tory rebels defy the government and allow parliament to take control of the schedule of the House of Commons — the first step in their bid to turn the plan to bind the prime minister’s hands — the U.K. government will make its own countermove to trigger an election.

Under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, passed in 2011 after the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats formed a coalition government, British prime ministers are no longer able to unilaterally ask the queen to dissolve parliament and trigger an election. The prime minister must first secure backing for the poll from two-thirds of the MPs in the House of Commons.

UK NATIONAL PARLIAMENT ELECTION POLL OF POLLS

For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

The government will put forward a motion requesting an early election if MPs do manage to start the process of legislating for an extension. This will be published in readiness on Tuesday and voted on the following day.

Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn indicated on Monday he is likely to back the move, saying the U.K. “needs” a general election, which makes it seem likely any bid to hold an election would pass the House of Commons.

Election blocked

An unlikely, but possible, scenario is that Johnson does not secure the two-thirds support he needs for an election at this point.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Monday warned a pre-Brexit election would be an “elephant trap” for the Labour Party.

Tory MPs threatened with deselection and some rebel Labour MPs could block an election, but would be unlikely to succeed if both the Conservative and Labour Party leadership were whipping in favor of the move.

Is there time?

But even if the prime minister is unsuccessful in his bid to call a general election, it remains uncertain whether the plan to pass a bill forcing an extension would have enough time to move through both houses of parliament and receive royal assent before Johnson suspends parliament for a month. That’s a lot of legislative hoops to get through before next Monday, named by the government as the earliest possible date for suspension to begin.

“It’s possible, but it’s extremely tight,” the Institute for Government’s Hannah White told the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday. “It’s easier in the Commons than it is in the Lords. In the Commons you can do what’s called programming legislation, which means you set out exactly how long there is to debate each stage.”

The Lords is less certain. “The Lords’ procedure is much more flexible and there’s been discussion about whether members of the House of Lords might try to prolong debate in order to prevent the legislation receiving royal assent before prorogation,” White said.

Ignore the law?

If the rebels manage to overcome all of these hurdles and get a new law onto the statute books, could Johnson simply ignore it?

In his statement in Downing Street Monday, Johnson said there would be “no circumstances” under which he would request a Brexit delay from Brussels.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson insisted earlier Monday that “every government adheres to the law,” but a government official explained that the prime minister’s reaction would depend on exactly what the legislation said.

“This lot do have a lot of form for bringing forward legislation which is defective,” the official said. “You cannot say we will abide by anything that they put forward as it may well be impossible.”

Parliament traditionally defers to the executive on matters of foreign policy but, like much in the British system, the letter of the law is very much open to interpretation. Could parliament ask EU leaders directly for an extension rather than relying on Johnson to make the request?

“Lawyers would argue for a million years over that. Put five lawyers in a room and you get five answers,” the official said.

The figure close to the rebels said the reason MPs felt they had to act now is because they believe they may have to take the government to court in this scenario — a move which could take at least three weeks. If they had waited until Johnson had a chance to renegotiate with the EU, they could risk running out of time and crashing out without a deal.

Whoever comes out on top, time is in short supply.

HYPOTHETICAL SECOND BREXIT REFERENDUM POLL OF POLLS

For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium Brexit service for professionals: Brexit Pro. To test our expert policy coverage of the implications and next steps per industry, email [email protected] for a complimentary trial.

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