UK PM holds emergency Brexit talks, fuelling election rumours
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will chair an emergency cabinet meeting Monday on the eve of a showdown with parliament over Brexit, amid growing speculation he could call an early election to ensure Britain leaves the European Union next month.
Opposition parties and several members of Johnson’s governing Conservatives are expected to move on Tuesday to try to stop Britain exiting the EU without a divorce deal on October 31.
In a bid to head off the challenge, Johnson — who has been in office for less than six weeks — warned that MPs from his own party could be expelled if they backed the opposition Labour party’s plan to delay Brexit.
He then called an emergency meeting of his ministers to discuss what to do if, as expected, lawmakers vote on Tuesday to start legislating against a “no deal” Brexit.
The move fuelled speculation that Johnson is planning an election to force through his plan.
A Downing Street source told AFP that Tuesday’s expected parliamentary vote is “an expression of confidence in the government’s negotiating position to secure a deal”.
The Sun tabloid reported that Johnson could call a poll in five weeks’ time — before Brexit.
Johnson says he wants a deal with the EU to ease Britain’s departure from the bloc after 46 years of membership, but says if this cannot happen, Brexit must still happen as planned next month.
More than three years have passed since Britons voted by 52 percent to leave the European Union, a period marked by huge political upheaval, economic uncertainty and deep divisions both in parliament and across the country.
Earlier, Johnson’s official spokesman said: “He doesn’t want there to be an election. He believes that the public wants is for him to deliver Brexit on October 31.”
Former prime minister Theresa May agreed exit terms with Brussels last year but the deal, which covered Britain’s financial contributions, the rights of EU expatriates and the Irish border, was rejected by parliament three times.
Since taking office in July, Johnson has repeatedly called on the EU to renegotiate but it has so far refused, prompting both sides to ramp up preparations for a disorderly divorce.
Many British MPs are opposed to a “no deal” Brexit, fearing huge economic disruption, but they are running out of time.
They only return from their summer holiday on Tuesday, and Johnson has controversially decided to suspend parliament next week for more than a month.
“We must come together to stop no-deal,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told his supporters outside the northern city of Manchester on Monday.
“This week could be our last chance.”
According to the BBC, he is planning to introduce a law to force Johnson to seek to delay Brexit until January 1, 2020, unless parliament had approved a divorce deal or accepted a “no deal” Brexit before October 19.
EU leaders will meet for the final summit before the planned Brexit date, on October 17 and 18.
But the British coalition against “no deal” is divided, including MPs from veteran socialist Corbyn to former Conservative finance minister Philip Hammond, to Welsh and Scottish nationalists.
Corbyn said that if the legislative efforts failed, Labour could back a vote of no-confidence in Johnson’s government, which could trigger a general election.
The alternative is that Johnson himself calls a vote, although he would need the support of two-thirds of MPs.
Opinion polls suggest Johnson’s decisive action on Brexit is popular with voters, but an election — particularly before Brexit is delivered — could be a huge risk.
The 2016 referendum vote shook up the political landscape, with the governing Conservatives challenged not just by Labour, but also Nigel Farage’s eurosceptic Brexit party and the pro-European Liberal Democrats.
Johnson has staked his leadership on a promise to get Brexit — already delayed twice due to parliamentary resistence — done at any cost next month.
His government unfurled a formal £100 million (100 million euro) “get ready for Brexit” campaign Monday that included a website advising EU and UK nationals on how to deal with potential problems such as their phones not working abroad.