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Opposition parties signal backing for election if Brexit delayed until 2020

The PM must now wait to hear from the heads of the 27 member states whether they will grant his request for a delay.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking in the House of Commons during the Brexit debate on Tuesday (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking in the House of Commons during the Brexit debate on Tuesday (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)

By Harriet Line, PA Deputy Political Editor

Opposition parties have signalled they will back a general election this autumn if the European Union grants a delay to Brexit until next year.

Boris Johnson has vowed to push for a poll if EU leaders sanction an extension of up to three months, after his plans to fast-track his deal through the Commons by October 31 hit the buffers.

He met Jeremy Corbyn in his Commons office on Wednesday to discuss a new timetable, but it appeared that an agreement was not reached.

A Tory source said the Labour leader made clear he has “no policy except more delays and to spend 2020 having referendums”, however a Labour Party spokeswoman said Mr Corbyn reiterated Labour’s offer to “agree a reasonable timetable to debate, scrutinise and amend the Withdrawal Agreement Bill”.

Mr Corbyn was also said to have “restated that Labour will support a general election when the threat of a no-deal crashout is off the table”.

The Prime Minister must now wait to hear from the heads of the 27 member states, but Irish premier Leo Varadkar affirmed his support for a delay in a call with European Council president Donald Tusk.

Mr Varadkar and Mr Tusk “noted that it would still be possible for the UK to leave before January 31 2020 if the Withdrawal Agreement has been ratified in advance of that date”, according to a statement issued by the Taoiseach’s office.

“The matter is likely to be discussed further at tonight’s meeting of the Committee of Permanent Representatives in Brussels,” the statement added.

Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon suggested Labour would back the PM’s calls for a general election if EU leaders agree to a Brexit delay into next year.

“If the EU responds by agreeing an extension of a number of months that means that Boris Johnson in that time can’t push us out through a no-deal Brexit,” the Labour frontbencher told BBC Breakfast.

“Given that Labour will be calling for a general election once a no-deal is off the table because actually it’s only a general election that can sort out Brexit because a Labour government would hold a public vote between a credible leave option and remain to finally sort this out.”

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(PA Graphics)

However, some in Mr Corbyn’s shadow cabinet are thought to be wary that an outright election win for Mr Johnson could lead to a no-deal Brexit.

But the opposition leader, according to a report in The Sun, is said to have told MPs they “cannot afford to turn down another election request”.

A senior Liberal Democrat source said Jo Swinson’s party was “not scared” of a general election.

“Our priority remains getting a People’s Vote, but we are not scared of a general election.

SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said her party will take decisions on next steps when they know what will happen regarding an extension and when they have “clarity about the intentions of the Prime Minister”.

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Possible timings for winter general election (PA Graphics)

“Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn are Brexiteers, and we can’t wait to take them on and show the country that we can stop Brexit and build a brighter future.”

David Linden, MP for Glasgow East, said the SNP would “relish” an election “as soon as an extension is in place”.

There was anger in Downing Street on Tuesday after MPs rejected Mr Johnson’s plan to push through the legislation approving his deal with the EU in just three days by 322 votes to 308 – despite having given their approval, in principle, to his Brexit deal minutes earlier.

Mr Johnson’s decision to “pause” the legislation makes his promise to take Britain out of the EU by October 31 “come what may” difficult to fulfil and means Brexit could be delayed until next year.

The dramatic result in Parliament on Tuesday – which Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said left Brexit “in purgatory” – puts the Prime Minister effectively at the mercy of EU leaders who will decide whether to grant Britain a further extension in order to pass a deal.

European Council president Donald Tusk said he would recommend they agree a further delay in order to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

The Daily Telegraph reported that Mr Johnson had begun calling EU leaders on Tuesday night to tell them he would not accept a three-month delay, but has reportedly not ruled out approving a short extension of around 10 days to allow his deal to get through Parliament.

A Number 10 source indicated that if the Prime Minister was forced to accept a delay until the new year, he would push for a general election instead.

“On Saturday Parliament asked for a delay until January and today Parliament blew its last chance,” the source said.

“If Parliament’s delay is agreed by Brussels, then the only way the country can move on is with an election. This Parliament is broken.”

PA

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