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Can Boris Johnson push through Brexit in the middle of a general election?

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has written to the Cabinet Secretary asking him to clarify the rules.

Jeremy Corbyn has asked for clarification of general election rules (Rui Vieira/PA)
Jeremy Corbyn has asked for clarification of general election rules (Rui Vieira/PA)

By Gavin Cordon, PA Whitehall Editor

Jeremy Corbyn has written to the Cabinet Secretary, asking him to clarify Whitehall’s general election rules.

The move follows reports that Boris Johnson could try to push through Brexit in the middle of a campaign in a bid to thwart MPs trying to block a no-deal break.

– How could that happen?

Opposition parties are expected to table a no-confidence motion in the Government when MPs return to Westminster in September.

If the Government loses, under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act (FTPA), the Commons has 14 days in which to pass a motion of confidence in either Mr Johnson’s administration or a new alternative government.

If it fails to do so, there has to be a general election.

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Jeremy Corbyn said it would be an ‘abuse of power’ to leave the EU during an election (Victoria Jones/PA)

– So when would such an election take place?

Following the dissolution of Parliament, there must be at least 25 working days before polling day; however, the actual timing is down to the Prime Minister.

Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s top adviser, is said to have told him he should delay voting until after October 31 by which time – as it stands – Britain will be out of the EU, with or without a deal with Brussels.

– How have the opposition parties reacted?

With outrage.

In his letter to Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill, Mr Corbyn said it would represent “an unprecedented, unconstitutional and anti-democratic abuse of power” by a Prime Minister.

The Labour leader argued that the Civil Service “purdah” rules governing elections state that any policy decisions where an incoming government might be expected to take a “different view” should be postponed until after polling day.

He said a Labour government would never support a no-deal Brexit and would certainly want the opportunity to take a different view.

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Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill has been asked to clarify the election rules (PA)

– What do the Brexiteers say?

The Tories have dismissed Mr Corbyn’s letter as a political stunt.

Pro-Leave MPs said Parliament has passed legislation setting Britain’s withdrawal date for October 31; therefore the decision has already been taken and there is no need for further action.

The default position is that UK will simply depart the EU on Halloween.

– So is that the end of it?

The Cabinet Office said Sir Mark will respond to Mr Corbyn’s letter “in due course”.

However, leading constitutional expert Professor Vernon Bogdanor argued that, even if the UK were to “leave” during an election campaign,  it would not necessarily be the end of the matter.

He said a new parliament could – with the agreement of the EU – vote retrospectively to extend the withdrawal process beyond the end of October.

If that were to happen, it would be deemed that Britain had not in fact  ever left and was still an EU member state.

PA

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