Sunday, December 5

Analysis: Johnson knows the truth about his push for an election



Boris Johnson on Thursday called for another general election, but in truth he knows he won’t get one yet.

Still it was a clever device to distract from the admission he’d rather bury. That he will break his “do or die” promise to leave the EU on 31 October.

Writing to Jeremy Corbyn asking him to agree to a poll on 12 December, the prime minister finally wrote down what he perhaps cannot bear to say out loud: “My view has never changed that we should leave on 31 October.”

However, it is clear from public and private comments of Donald Tusk that it is likely that the EU will offer a delay until 31 January, though it is possible that a shorter delay will be offered.

Mr Johnson said only last month he’d rather “die in a ditch” than ask for this delay. And yet he has now confirmed that extension is on its way.

His no-deal Brexit blocked and his Brexit Bill paused, the prime minister is stuck in the trenches with no clear way out.

It is undoubtedly a blow. This is a prime minister who won the leadership campaign on his promise to quit the EU on 31 October.

It has been the motif of his time in No 10. He pledged to succeed where Theresa May failed and yet in eight days time he will be forced to delay Brexit for a third time.

Brexit is not in his gift, neither is a general election. On Thursday he called on Labour to support one, making them an offer; if the opposition agreed to an election on 12 December, he would allow more parliamentary time – up until 6 November – for MPs to scrutinise his Brexit Bill.

But Mr Johnson needs two thirds of MPs to vote for an election under the Fixed Term Parliament Act and Mr Corbyn has made it crystal clear he will not be bounced, announcing tonight that Labour will not support a general election until a no-deal exit is taken off the table.

Mr Corbyn has said for more than two years he wants an election but he is now buying time, waiting to see what the terms of that extension are.

Many in his party – perhaps the majority of MPs – don’t want an election and have signalled to the leadership they will not support one, even if Mr Corbyn is ready to go.

The leader’s office is taking a wait-and-see approach. The perfect outcome would be Brussels offering a short extension – until 15 November – to allow parliament to try to pass the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which could be extended to 31 January if the deal fails.

This would inevitably postpone any election into the New Year and avoid a showdown with MPs. And even if Mr Corbyn does want an election, perhaps even half of his parliamentary party do not. Better for him then to try to push on for a deal first and leave Mr Johnson in limbo.

And it’s not just Labour. Mr Johnson’s top team is also divided on whether to go for an election in December. There are some in cabinet who would prefer the prime minister to bring back his Brexit Bill and try to get it passed in November.

They think the government has a chance of getting it through if it’s willing to make concessions.

The terms of the divorce agreed, Mr Johnson could then reset the details of a future free trade deal with the EU via the ballot box anyway if he won a post-Brexit general election.

Those misgivings cascade down the party. Many Conservative MPs are wary of a pre-Brexit poll. The One Nation caucus of MPs met on Thursday to voice their concerns about pushing on with an election before Brexit is settled.