British Prime Minister Offers Snap Election to Break Brexit Impasse

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street on his way to Parliament on Thursday. (Hollie Adams/PA via AP)

LONDON (AFP) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday offered parliament more time to scrutinize his Brexit deal if it agrees to hold a snap general election on Dec. 12.

The premier suspended debates on his EU divorce deal after MPs on Tuesday refused to rush it through Parliament in time for the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline.

Johnson is vehemently opposed to delaying Britain’s exit from the European Union a third time this year but has been forced by parliament to request a delay.

Lawmakers on Tuesday gave their support “in principle” for the agreement — but voted down the proposed timetable.

It had been the first time that the House of Commons had backed any Brexit proposal since the 2016 EU referendum.

The EU is expected to agree the length of a Brexit deadline extension on Friday.

Johnson has asked the EU for a three-month delay that could be cut short in case of a breakthrough that finally sees the deal approved by MPs.

Johnson said Thursday that the only way to make real progress now was by MPs agreeing to a general election.

“If they genuinely want more time to study this excellent deal, they can have it — but they have to agree on a general election on Dec. 12,” he said.

“It’s time, frankly, that the opposition summoned up the nerve to submit themselves to the judgment of our collective boss, which is the people of the UK.”

The main opposition Labour Party has previously refused to back snap polls until the possibility of a chaotic “no-deal” Brexit on Oct. 31 has been firmly ruled out.

The party’s parliamentary business spokeswoman Valerie Vaz reaffirmed that position in parliament — to jeers from Conservative MPs.

“The Labour Party will back an election once no deal is ruled out and if the extension allows,” Vaz said.

Narrow margins
Two-thirds of MPs must vote in favor of an early election and Johnson is currently running a minority government.

Passing his Brexit legislation would rely on the shaky support of ousted Conservatives and Labour rebels, largely representing Brexit-supporting constituencies.

Top Labour Party members fear early polls because of Johnson’s relatively high public approval ratings.

Instead, they have pushed leader Jeremy Corbyn to support holding a second Brexit referendum.

The Britain Elects poll aggregator puts Johnson’s Conservatives on 35 percent, Labour on 25 percent, the Liberal Democrats on 18 percent, the Brexit Party on 11 percent and the Greens on four percent.

Some members of Johnson’s cabinet and advisers have also reportedly expressed reservations about an election held soon after another Brexit delay — a prospect that Johnson had repeatedly ruled out.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the minister responsible for scheduling the business of parliament, told MPs that they would have “an opportunity to debate and approve” Johnson’s election proposal on Monday.

He said the government was willing to have parliament sit 24 hours a day, every day until dissolution on Nov. 6 if they backed an election, to give them time to scrutinize the Brexit bill.

The row over Brexit overshadowed a symbolic win for Johnson on Thursday, with MPs voting in favor of his government’s annual legislative programmed by 310 to 294 votes.

The outcome saves Johnson from overseeing the first government to have its agenda rejected in nearly 100 years.

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By Dmitry Zaks
© Agence France-Presse

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