UK Set For Election As EU Warns No More Brexit Delays
British MPs looked set Tuesday to vote for a pre-Christmas elections to try to resolve the political deadlock over its exit from the European Union, as the bloc warned there may not be any more Brexit delays.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is trying for a fourth time to call a snap poll for December, and looks likely to succeed after the main opposition Labour party said it would support him.
As ever in the tortuous Brexit process that began with the 2016 EU referendum, however, there was a risk of the House of Commons rejecting the plan in a row over extending the franchise to EU citizens and teenagers.
In Brussels, European Council President Donald Tusk warned against prolonging the turmoil.
Confirming that the three-month Brexit delay approved in principle by EU members on Monday had now been formally adopted, he warned: “It may be the last one.
“Please make the best use of this time.”
Johnson took office in July promising to end more than three years of political wrangling over Britain’s EU exit but a rebellion over his hardline strategy has left him without a Commons majority.
Unable to get MPs’ support for his divorce deal with Brussels, he was forced by law to abandon his “do-or-die” pledge to leave the bloc on October 31.
He is now pressing for an early election in December which he hopes will give him the Commons majority he needs to push through legislation to enact Brexit.
After three failed attempts to pass a normal election motion, which requires the support of two-thirds of MPs, the prime minister on Tuesday took an alternative path.
Johnson introduced a bill to legislate for an election — a method which requires only a simple majority to pass.
“We are left with no choice but to go to the country to break free from this impasse,” he told MPs.
A newly elected parliament would have a “new mandate to deliver on the will of people and get Brexit done”, he said.
In a major boost, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn announced his support for a December poll after meeting with his top team on Tuesday morning.
The veteran socialist has been torn between rival camps within his own party over whether to proceed, with some fearing Labour faces electorate defeat.
Corbyn had argued that he would not allow an election until Johnson’s threat to leave the EU without a divorce deal was removed.
The EU’s agreement to delay Brexit meant that “for the next three months, our condition of taking no-deal off the table has now been met”, he announced.
“We will now launch the most ambitious and radical campaign for real change our country has ever seen.”
After the EU delay, the government halted costly “no-deal” exit preparations and reportedly melted down 50-pence commemorative Brexit coins.
However, the risk of a disorderly exit may still remain, for example if there is no Brexit deal by January and the EU declines to grant a further delay.
‘Boris has to win’
Johnson is pressing for an election on December 12, but some opposition parties pushing for December 9 — with the decision to be made in votes later Tuesday.
There is a risk that the election plan is derailed, due to a number of amendments tabled to Johnson’s legislation.
One demands EU citizens living in Britain be allowed to vote in the election, while another wants the franchise extended to people aged 16 and 17.
The government opposes both, and Downing Street said that if either passed, it would abandon the entire project.
There have been two general elections in the last four years in Britain, in 2015 and 2017, and the next is not scheduled to happen until 2022.
Johnson is taking a risk in calling an early poll, but he has few other options.
John Curtice from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow said Johnson is in a strong position to get a majority but an election remains a gamble.
“Boris has to win. A hung parliament and Boris is out,” he said, referring to situation — as is the case now — where no party has a majority in the Commons.
Curtice told AFP that failure to win a Conservative majority would see a Labour-led coalition seek a new Brexit referendum.
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