U.K. Parliament rejects Boris Johnson’s call for an early election
(Washington Post) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson suffered two political drubbings on Monday: He was forced to grudgingly accept the European Union’s offer to delay Brexit until January, and then lost a motion in Parliament to stage a general election before Christmas.
But the “rebel alliance” of lawmakers who have opposed him is splintering, and he may still get support for an early election by a different path this week.
Johnson wants an election so he can have a chance to regain his lost parliamentary majority and fulfill his broken promise to get Brexit done, “do or die.”
“Across the country, there is a widespread view that this Parliament has run its course,” Johnson told lawmakers Monday.
He fell way short of the two-thirds majority he needed for his early-election motion. Labour, the largest opposition party, has resisted the election push, and its lawmakers mostly abstained in the vote.
Speaking immediately afterward, the prime minister said, “We will not allow this paralysis to continue.”
He then confirmed that he will try to get a Dec. 12 election by introducing a new, one-line bill requiring only a simple majority.
Two anti-Brexit opposition parties — the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party — have suggested they would back something close to that proposal, although they may object to the precise date.
In remarks that resembled a campaign speech, Johnson blamed Parliament, including rebel lawmakers from his Conservative Party, for blocking Brexit — again.
“They made it inevitable that the people of this country would be retained in the E.U., against their will, for at least another three months, at a cost of another billion pounds a month,” Johnson said.
He charged, “They just want to delay Brexit and cancel Brexit.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn responded that Johnson was flailing about and failing to keep his word.
“This is a prime minister who cannot be trusted,” Corbyn said. “Every promise this prime minister makes, he abandons.”
Corbyn criticized Johnson for spending 100 million pounds ($129 million) of public money on an advertising campaign urging Britons to “Get Ready for Brexit” on Oct. 31.
The opposition leader also noted that Britain hasn’t had a general election in dark and dreary December since 1923.
He argued that the proposed timing by the Tories would have the effect of suppressing votes — discouraging participation by students who have left school for the holidays and elderly folk who might be less willing to vote on a day when the sun sets so early, at 3:50 p.m.
Labour’s continued reticence to back elections, analysts say, is related to uncertainty about how the party would fare.
Some within the upper ranks of the party want to go for it, believing that Corbyn is a proven campaigner. Others fear that the party’s messy position on Brexit may not go down well on the doorsteps.
Recent polling puts Johnson’s Conservative Party 10 points ahead of Labour.
However, as Theresa May, Johnson’s predecessor, knows only too well, polls can shift dramatically over the course of a campaign. In the last general election, in 2017, May went in expecting to get a clear majority and mandate, but ended up losing her parliamentary majority instead.
During Johnson’s tenure, as long as the thrust of the opposition effort was to block a chaotic no-deal exit, Labour was able to hold together smaller opposition parties, as well as some members of Johnson’s Conservative Party, to frustrate the prime minister’s plans. But now that the threat of a no-deal Brexit has receded, the members of that alliance have diverged in their priorities.
In a series of tweets, Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party, explained why she was supporting an early general election.
“For all his bluster, Johnson would much prefer to fight an election with Brexit already ‘delivered,’ ” Sturgeon wrote. “An election now would instead force him to explain his failure to keep his 31 October ‘do or die’ promise and also defend his bad deal.”
The offer from Brussels to postpone Brexit another three months beyond the Oct. 31 deadline came in response to a formal request from Johnson, who was forced by his own lawmakers to ask for more time.
Johnson successfully negotiated a divorce deal with E.U. leaders, and the House of Commons approved it in principle, but British lawmakers rejected Johnson’s fast-tracked timetable, saying they want more time to scrutinize and debate it.
Johnson wrote back to the E.U. leadership on Monday: “I very much hope we can put this difficult period behind us.”
According to the terms agreed to by the 27 remaining E.U. countries, Britain could still leave before the end of January if Parliament ratifies the separation deal ahead of time. In Europe’s jargon-loving precincts, that means Britain got a “flextension.”
“The EU27 has agreed that it will accept the UK’s request for a #Brexit flextension until 31 January 2020,” European Council President Donald Tusk said Monday on Twitter. Ambassadors agreed to the deal without calling in national leaders for an in-person meeting, a sign that the decision was not especially controversial.
European leaders are tired of debating Brexit — especially at a moment when many European economies are flagging, extreme parties are still nipping at their heels and many citizens just want to move on. But leaders also fear the economic instability that would result from kicking Britain out before there’s an approved deal to manage the withdrawal.
Monday’s delay was granted on the condition that British representatives in the E.U. agree not to obstruct the body’s decision-making while they linger inside the club, as Johnson has at times threatened to do.
The E.U. leaders also want Johnson to name a European commissioner, a kind of senior E.U. bureaucrat, because each member country is required to do so under E.U. treaties.
Naming someone would be another politically symbolic defeat for Johnson. Not naming a commissioner would violate the E.U. treaties, potentially opening the bloc’s decisions to legal challenges and upsetting the Europeans.
Birnbaum reported from Brussels. Quentin Ariès in Brussels contributed to this report.