LONDON — With his Brexit deal “paused” and his “do-or-die” promise to leave the European Union by the end of October dashed, Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday said he would ask Britain’s fractious Parliament to support a Dec. 12 general election.
In a letter to opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, Johnson said he would give lawmakers one last chance to scrutinize his withdrawal agreement legislation and “get Brexit done” by Nov. 6. Or else.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the House and a close Johnson ally, said the government would introduce a motion on Monday seeking a debate and vote on an early general election.
Under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, two-thirds of the House of Commons must agree to an election. Johnson’s last two bids for an early election were rejected. And he may not have the numbers on Monday, either.
Some opposition lawmakers accused him of trying to divert attention away from his broken pledge to deliver Brexit by Halloween. Others said they needed a guarantee that Britain will not exit the European Union without a deal to manage the transition.
“Take no-deal off the table and we absolutely support an election,” Corbyn told the BBC. “I want us not to crash out of the E.U. because of all the damage it will do to jobs all across this country.”
He declined to say what sort of evidence he would need to be satified that Britain won’t leave abruptly without a deal.
Asked Thursday what he would do if Labour refused to back an election, Johnson replied, “We would campaign day after day for the people of this country to be released from subjection to a Parliament that has outlived its usefulness.”
In his letter to Corbyn, Johnson wrote, “An election on 12 December will allow a new parliament and government to be in place by Christmas. If I win a majority in this election, we will then ratify the great new deal that I have negotiated, get Brexit done in January and the country will move on.”
The last time a general election took place in December was the 1920s. The Labour Party is said to favor fair-weather balloting.
Speaking with BBC, Johnson said that if lawmakers “genuinely want more time to study this excellent deal, they can have it — but they have to agree to a general election on December the 12th.”
That was a threat, yes, but also a call to let voters settle the matter.
It is an understatement to say that Johnson has been frustrated in his effort to extract Britain from the E.U.
He said last month he’d “rather be dead in a ditch” than ask for delay. And yet, because he missed a mid-October deadline to get his withdrawal deal approved, the prime minister was forced to send a letter to European leaders requesting an extension until the end of January.
This week, British lawmakers voted to support moving his Brexit legislation forward in the approval process, but then they rejected his fast-tracked, three-day timetable, saying they need more time to scrutinize the 115-page bill.
Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of Scotland and a Brexit foe, tweeted Thursday, “So Johnson appears to be saying to MPs ‘if you vote for an election, I’ll bring back my bad Brexit bill and try to drag us out of the E.U. before we go to the polls’. Elections should be exercises in letting voters decide, not devices for charlatans to get their own way.”
European leaders are still mulling Britain’s extension request. They are expected to offer a reprieve of some sort. That could be a short extension of several weeks, as Johnson would prefer, or the full three months that Parliament forced him to request. They could also offer a two-tier “flextension,” as they did for a previous Brexit deadline.
If Johnson loses his motion on Monday, he could also, bizarrely, call a vote of no confidence in his own government, or he could try to pass a new one-line act of legislation that would only need a simple majority. But that could be amended by Parliament into something Johnson wouldn’t want.
One poll aggregator puts Johnson’s Conservative Party ahead of Labour by 10 points. But much can happen between now and polling day. When Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election in 2017, she had a healthy lead in the polls. She ended up losing her parliamentary majority.