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From ‘flextension’ to general election: What is going on with Brexit?

As talk of a Christmas election heats up, here is a look at the current state of play.

An anti-Brexit demonstrator holds European Union and England flags outside the Houses of Parliament (PA)
An anti-Brexit demonstrator holds European Union and England flags outside the Houses of Parliament (PA)

By Catherine Wylie, PA

The Prime Minister has missed his “do or die” Halloween Brexit deadline, which means the UK will stay in the EU until January 31 next year, unless Parliament ratifies his deal before then.

With that “flextension” now confirmed by the EU, attention now turns to the matter of a general election.

So is it as straightforward as setting a date and getting on with it? Not quite. Here is a look at how things stand.

– What does Boris Johnson want to do now and is he likely to succeed?

First, Mr Johnson is making an election bid under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act (FTPA), requiring a two-thirds Commons majority – 434 MPs – to have an election on December 12.

Labour’s lack of support for the proposal means it is likely to be defeated when voted upon on Monday evening.

Jeremy Corbyn has insisted that Labour can only support an election once the threat of a no-deal crash-out from the European Union has been completely ruled out.

– Why is there opposition to an election on December 12?

Concerns have been raised about a December election for a number of reasons – not all of them political.

There is talk of voters staying away, discouraged by cold wintry evenings, while others could well be booked up with office Christmas parties, nativity plays, shopping and generally busying themselves with festive fun.

There are also potential issues with councils being unable to book polling stations and count venues with such short notice.

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(PA Graphics)

– Has December 9 also been mentioned as a potential date?

Yes. Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson and the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford have put forward a tightly-drafted Bill that would grant an election on December 9 – three days earlier than the PM’s suggested polling date – as long as the European Union granted the January 31 extension.

The draft law, currently scheduled to be debated in Tuesday’s sitting of the House of Commons, would require a simple majority of 320 MPs to support it in order to dissolve Parliament – 114 fewer than under the FTPA “super majority” rules.

– What difference does three days make?

Ms Swinson said her proposal ties Mr Johnson’s hands over the election date and does not give him the “wriggle room” that his own plan would have.

She said it is three further days away from Christmas, adding that keeping the election day as far away from December 25 is in the best interest of the economy.

The Lib Dem leader also pointed out that December 9 would be a better date for university students who may be leaving university towns to return home for Christmas at the end of term.

– Are the Lib Dems and the SNP keen to have an election at the earliest possible opportunity?

It would seem so. Ms Swinson said December 9 is the earliest possible date to have an election if the Bill is passed, meaning that an election happens “as soon as possible”.

Both the Lib Dems and the SNP would hope to benefit from an election before Brexit takes place because they will be hoping to win the backing of people who want Brexit scrapped.

The Lib Dems have campaigned for a People’s Vote, while the SNP has also been vocal in its support of a second Brexit referendum.

– So where does Labour stand on all of this?

While some around Jeremy Corbyn back a snap election, many Labour MPs are bitterly opposed to a poll, fearing confusion over the party’s position on Brexit will cost them at the ballot box.

The party has said it will only back an election if Mr Johnson makes “absolutely clear” that no-deal is off the table now that the January extension has been granted.

But it is not entirely clear what steps Mr Johnson would have to take to satisfy Labour that no-deal has completely been ruled out.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott suggested further legislation may be required as promises by Mr Johnson were “not worth the paper they’re written on”.

She said that Labour would “discuss” the Lib Dems/SNP Bill with opposition colleagues.

Mr Corbyn had previously said he wanted to wait for the EU’s decision over the length of the Article 50 extension before deciding whether to whip MPs in support of Mr Johnson’s bid for a winter election.

– What will the Prime Minister do if he fails in his bid to hold an election on December 12?

A Number 10 source said on Monday afternoon that if Mr Johnson fails, the Government will introduce an “almost identical” Bill to the December 9 general election proposals put forward by the Lib Dems and SNP.

“We need a new Parliament by Christmas so we can Get Brexit Done in January and the country can move on,” the source said.

PA

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