Calling general election a risky Brexit strategy for Johnson
Prime minister’s claim that he is making progress in talks with the EU is entirely false
If Boris Johnson loses a general election then an alternative government will delay Brexit and almost certainly hold a second referendum that could abandon it altogether.
On the steps of Downing Street on Monday evening, Boris Johnson said he wanted to take Britain out of the European Union with a deal but “without an election,which I don’t want and you don’t want”. But by declaring that he will not follow any instruction from parliament to delay Brexit beyond October 31st, he made clear that he will seek an election if MPs vote on Tuesday to take control of the Commons order paper.
Minutes later, a senior government source confirmed that if the prime minister loses Tuesday’s vote, he will table a motion calling for a general election on October 14th. Downing Street has told Conservative MPs that they will lose the whip and be barred from standing for the party if they vote with the opposition on Tuesday, but the rebels remained confident on Monday night that enough of them would hold firm to defeat the government.
Purging MPs opposed to a no-deal Brexit will reinforce Johnson’s message to Conservative voters who have flirted with Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party to return to the fold. And by reuniting the Leave coalition that won the 2016 Brexit referendum, he hopes to defeat a Labour Party weakened by the resurgent Liberal Democrats and doubts about Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
What are the uncertainties?
It is a risky strategy that could backfire badly if the Brexit Party retains the double-digit support it now enjoys in opinion polls and Remainers vote tactically. Johnson’s purge of moderates within his own party could also leave newly selected Conservative candidates facing challenges from incumbents standing as Independent Conservatives.
Johnson’s claim that he is making progress in negotiations with the EU is wholly false and his sherpa David Frost has yet to present any new proposals in Brussels. EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier was expressing the common EU position on Sunday when he ruled out abolishing the Northern Ireland backstop and said that alternative arrangements for the Border could only be considered after the withdrawal agreement is ratified.
Downing Street’s threats could yet intimidate enough Conservative rebels to defeat Tuesday’s Commons motion but if Johnson seeks an election on October 14th, Corbyn will offer Labour’s support to provide the two-thirds majority required by the Fixed Term Parliament Act. If Johnson returns with a working majority and no longer needs the DUP’s support, he would be free to agree the Northern Ireland-only backstop the EU originally proposed.
If he loses, an alternative government will delay Brexit and almost certainly hold a second referendum that could abandon it altogether.