Sunday 22 September 2019

John Downing: 'Boris might go to the polls a lot sooner than we had expected'


British prime minister Boris Johnson. Photo: REUTERS/Simon Dawson
British prime minister Boris Johnson. Photo: REUTERS/Simon Dawson
John Downing

John Downing

Since his election to the top job on July 24, we had expected that Boris Johnson would go to the polls after he had delivered a "do-or-die deal-or-no-deal Brexit" on October 31. That put the timeframe before the end of this year or early in 2020.

The calculation was that he could offset expected losses in pro-Remain Scotland, and in like-minded London and the south-east of England, with gains from Labour in pro-Brexit Midlands and the north of England.

Brexit would be a big part of his election campaign as it would outflank Nigel Farage's party of that very name.

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But so too would be pointing up how Labour's Jeremy Corbyn was not a credible national leader, while sweetening everything by loosening the public purse strings, and announcing an end to austerity.

The strategy has not changed, but the pace may be about to quicken. Today, up to 20 Conservative Party rebels are expected to combine with Labour, the Social Democrats, the Scottish National Party, various non-aligned MPs and others, to try to block a no-deal Brexit by October 31.

It will be a hard task to achieve as the Westminster Parliament, which returned only yesterday from summer recess, is due to close again next Monday for five crucial weeks in the Brexit timetable.

A new law generally takes a year, with three phases through the lower house allowing for endless debate time, and a similar path through the House of Lords.

The parliament's chairman, Speaker John Bercow, famed for dramatic flourishes, is set to be helpful. Lovers of arcane parliamentary procedures are already beside themselves comparing technical rules.

Suffice to say that - even if the blockers have the MP numbers - the outcome remains uncertain.

Even less certain is whether Boris Johnson would accept the will of his parliament. Mr Johnson's move for a cabinet meeting yesterday evening, and a meeting with Conservative MPs in the gardens of his Downing Street residence, fuelled speculation about an early election.

There were reports that Mr Johnson would engineer things to hold the election after the Brexit deadline. That could mean no-deal happening by default. But that seems too much of a stretch and an election may be before October 31.

Mr Johnson would prefer to be seen as forced into an election rather than causing it. By law he needs the support of two-thirds of MPs to call an election before the one due in June 2022.

Labour's Jeremy Corbyn has been calling for a general election for the past two years. His predecessor, Tony Blair, has warned him to pull back from "a Boris trap".

UK voters have had many trips to the polls recently. In 2014, Scottish voters rejected a referendum on independence, there was a general election in 2015, the Brexit vote in 2016, and an election in 2017. Now the UK's third prime minister in as many years may be about to tread that uncertain road again.

Irish Independent

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