Belfast Telegraph

We're all set for election, says DUP's Foster but 'now is not the right time'

Philip Hammond
Philip Hammond
David Gauke wants to stop a no-deal Brexit

By David Hughes

The DUP has said it will "stand on our record of delivery" if there is another general election - but it doesn't believe now is the right time for one.

The UK could be heading for another general election if MPs back a bid to block a no-deal Brexit today.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson last night insisted "I don't want an election, you don't want an election" but he said he would not seek an extension to the Brexit deadline - which is what a cross-party alliance is demanding if there is not a deal.

DUP leader Arlene Foster denied Mr Johnson was playing a dangerous game of brinkmanship and said MPs should give him more time to negotiate a deal with the EU.

"Others are absolutely playing games because they are trying to stop the Prime Minister from getting a deal that works for the whole of the United Kingdom," she told ITV News.

"Everybody knows that the issue is in and around the backstop and it has to be dealt with, and the Prime Minister is making progress.

"He said today he is making progress in relation to the negotiations and talking to his colleagues in the EU27.

"So therefore he should be given the space and time to do that."

Mrs Foster said her party would stand on its record of delivery of £1bn of benefits to Northern Ireland it extracted from its confidence and supply deal with the Tories.

"Political parties in Northern Ireland cannot be afraid of elections, and we're not afraid of elections," she added.

"But we don't believe it's the right time, because what we should be concentrating on it getting a deal."

A senior Government source said Mr Johnson would request a general election on October 14 if MPs back the cross-party move to seize control of Commons business today.

A motion for the early election will be tabled by the Government which would require the support of two-thirds of MPs under the provisions of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act (FTPA).

The Government source said MPs will face a "simple choice".

The source said the vote would be treated as though it is a vote of no confidence, and that any Conservative MP voting against the Government would have the whip removed from them.

The source said: "If they vote to wreck the negotiation process, to go against giving Britain the ability to negotiate a deal, then they'll also have to reflect on what comes next."

October 14 was the date scheduled for the Queen's Speech under Mr Johnson's controversial plan to suspend Parliament for up to five weeks.

The Government source said the motion on an early election would be published before MPs vote today so they would know the consequences of their actions.

The source said that if MPs were to vote to take control of the order paper, and "so destroy the Government's negotiating position, to make it impossible for the UK to negotiate a deal with Brussels, then the vote would then move to an FTPA vote, which I would expect to bring about a general election".

"I think if you were to have any chance of securing a deal, which the PM has been very clear that he wants the deal, you would want to have that election on October 14 so that you can go to European Council and secure a deal."

The European Council summit meeting of EU leaders on October 17 is seen as the last chance to achieve an agreement before the October 31 deadline.

Confirmation that Mr Johnson would seek an election rather than risk another delay to Brexit came after he used a statement in Downing Street to plead with would-be rebels not to join Labour's Jeremy Corbyn in backing a "pointless" extension to the process.

The Prime Minister claimed the chances of a Brexit deal are rising and he was "encouraged by the progress we are making" with Brussels.

But if MPs voted against the Government and backed the cross-party Bill they would "chop the legs out from under the UK position".

"I say, to show our friends in Brussels that we are united in our purpose, MPs should vote with the Government against Corbyn's pointless delay," Mr Johnson said.

"I want everybody to know there are no circumstances in which I will ask Brussels to delay. We are leaving on October 31, no ifs or buts."

Former chancellor Philip Hammond and ex-justice secretary David Gauke are among the senior Tories who have put their name to cross-party legislation which the group hopes to push through the Commons this week.

If MPs agree today to allow the cross-party group to seize control of Commons business, the legislation will be considered tomorrow.

Under the terms of the proposed law, the Government must seek a delay to the UK's withdrawal from the EU until January 31, 2020 if there is no agreement with Brussels in place by October 19 and Parliament has not approved a no-deal Brexit.

Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said it could be Parliament's "last chance" to stop a "reckless and damaging" no-deal Brexit.

The Prime Minister's statement came as Tory MPs enjoyed a reception in the gardens of Downing Street - after being ordered to hand in their phones.

The BBC said the DUP were also in attendance.

Earlier, Mr Johnson was accused of "goading" some Tory MPs to rebel so he can force a snap general election having ejected opponents of a no-deal Brexit from the party.

"I think they seem to be quite prepared for there to be a rebellion, then to purge those who support the rebellion from the party," Mr Gauke told BBC Radio 4's Today.

Labour leader Mr Corbyn, who called a meeting of his shadow cabinet in Salford to discuss tactics.

He also said no-deal meant "damage and danger" to the peace process in Northern Ireland.

He will be joined by other opposition leaders in Westminster - including the SNP's Ian Blackford and Liberal Democrat Jo Swinson - for further talks about their approach tomorrow.

Belfast-born Labour MP Kate Hoey last night indicated she would defy her party leader.

"Any MP who votes for this Bill will be showing more loyalty to the European Union than to the United Kingdom," she tweeted.

The Alliance Party said if a general election is called "we will fight it on a campaign to stop Brexit".

"Given the recent speculation on an election, preparations are under way and Alliance believes that we are well placed to be competitive in a number of constituencies," a spokesman said.

Sinn Fein MP Chris Hazzard said the Conservatives "have literally allowed the chaos to infiltrate every single part of the Parliament".

Meanwhile, the SDLP has accused the DUP of blocking its proposal in Belfast City Hall to take legal action to prevent the suspension of Parliament.

Councillor Seamus De Faoite said: "Instead of taking the fight to Boris Johnson, Sinn Fein and the Alliance Party's silence meant the DUP blocked our proposal to fight this attempt to undermine the Good Friday Agreement and force a no-deal Brexit on a city that didn't vote for it."

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