The government could try to force a pre-Christmas election via a simple majority for a parliamentary bill, Downing Street has said, following a Liberal Democrat-devised plan to try to end theHouse of Commonsimpasse.
While ministers have dismissed a Lib Dem-Scottish National party idea to bring about an election on 9 December by amending the Fixed-term Parliaments Act as a “gimmick”, a Downing Street source said Boris Johnson’s government could consider a similar bill-based route.
On Monday, for the third time in recent weeks, MPs will be asked to back a government motion calling for an early general election under the FTPA. However, with the act requiring two-thirds of MPs to back the plan, and Labor saying it will only support an election once a no-dealBrexithas been ruled out, it seems poised to fail again.
The Downing Street source said: “IfLaboroppose being held to account by the people yet again then we will look at all options to get Brexit done, including ideas similar to that proposed by other opposition parties. ”
The appeal of a plan toamend the FTPAor presenting a one-line bill to call for an election is that these would require only a simple majority to pass, meaning Labor could not veto the idea, as SNP and Lib Dem votes would tip the balance.
The reason the government has been wary of this route so far is that bills can be amended, with MPs potentially imposing conditions such as votes for 16 – or 17 – year-olds, orallowing EU nationalsto vote in general elections.
The Downing Street hope would be that if Johnson gave categoric assurances about a fixed election date, thus ruling out the possibility of a drift into a no-deal Brexit, the opposition parties would pledge to not table any amendments.
However, the near-complete lack of trust between the factions in the Commons could still scupper such a plan.
Speaking on BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show, James Cleverly, the Conservative party chairman, dismissed the Lib Dem idea as “clearly a gimmick” and said he could not trust the party’s leader, Jo Swinson, to not table any Amendments.
“The reason I don’t trust them is Jo said she would respect the referendum result. Now she’s going to revoke article 50, ”he said.
Another issue could be that Downing Street wants an election to be preceded by another attempt to push the withdrawal agreement bill (Wab), which seeks to put Johnson’s Brexit deal into law,through the Commons, which the Lib Dems in particular could resist.
Finally, any general election is also contingent on the EU agreeing to another delay to Brexit to 31 January, as requested by Johnson under the terms of a law seeking to avoid no deal. Brussels hasyet to confirmits plans.
Labor seems poised to again not support Johnson’s motion for an election under the FTPA, which is tabled for debate and a vote in the Commons on Monday.
Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, said Labor would need guarantees from Johnson about no deal before supporting an election. “He could come to parliament and categorically give parliament an undertaking that he’s not going to come out without a deal,” she told Andrew Marr.
“But he won’t do that, because coming out without a deal is something that people around him like Dominic Cummings would want, because then it becomes not just Brexit but a Trump Brexit.”
The shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, echoed the sentiment on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday. “We have to wait and see what the European Union clarify about an extension date, and if they give us that extension until January then we will have to consider it,” he said.
Arguing for her plan, which would stop any progress on the bill, Swinson said the fixed date meant Labor should be able to back the plan.
Johnson should also support it, she told Marr: “If he is serious about wanting an election, and if he’s genuine that it’s about having an election before Christmas, then he can back this bill.”
While the Lib Dems have sought to present the election plan as a way to unblock the political process, the party’s foreign affairs spokesman, Chuka Umunna, conceded an election was also sought by the party as a route to a second referendum .
“It’s quite clear now that it’s highly unlikely that in this current parliament we’re going to be able to achieve that,” he told Sophy Ridge. “It looks more likely that you would be able to do that in a new parliament.”
“This is not the time to be holding a general election,” he told Ridge. “It’s a time for cool heads and [a] grownup government. Parliament has clearly indicated that it is willing to support this deal. The prime minister said he wants a deal. These deadlines – 31 October – are meaningless. ”
The former chancellor was also dismissive about threats from No 10 to “go on strike” if an election were rejected. “The government should stop making threats, stop throwing tantrums, and get on with the grownup business of doing its business. Just because it can’t get exactly what it wants, doesn’t mean it should stop working, ”Hammond said.