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Analysis

Get ready for an early election

by Hugo Dixon | 29.07.2019

Boris Johnson has “absolutely” ruled out a pre-Brexit election. That means pro-Europeans should definitely prepare for one. After all, one can’t trust what the new prime minister says.

Johnson pretty much knows the EU won’t give him what he wants. Given that, his key choice will be whether to call an early election or wait and see if MPs stop him crashing out without a deal.

The temptation to go early could be strong. Even with the support of Northern Ireland’s DUP, he has a majority of only two. If he calls the election in early September, it could be held in October. He might then hope to win a big majority and force through a no-deal Brexit before his “do or die” deadline of October 31.The “Boris bounce” may give him courage. The average of a string of opinion polls at the weekend gives the Tories 30% of the vote, up 6-7% since before Johnson became prime minister. Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party has fallen a similar amount to an average of 14-15%. (See here, here, here and here.)

The explanation seems pretty clear. With his hardline Cabinet appointments and uncompromising statements, Johnson is stealing the Brexit Party’s clothes. He may well squeeze Farage’s vote further in coming weeks.

Then there are the prime minister’s slew of promises – investment for deprived regions, more Bobbies on the beat and a fast railway across the Pennines. There’s quite a lot to be said for calling an election before empty promises and the messy reality of government catches up with him.

Finally, there’s Jeremy Corbyn. If there’s an early election, Johnson can be sure of fighting a weak and unpopular leader of the opposition who has shown no leadership over Brexit, the defining issue of our generation. It’s not surprising that the party is averaging 25% in the weekend polls.

So what’s stopping Johnson? Only one thing. He might lose. Indeed, unless he can squeeze the Brexit Party vote further, he probably will lose. Even if the pro-European vote is split between Labour, the Lib Dems and Greens, a 30% vote for the Tories won’t be enough.

The possibility of losing will scare Johnson. He won’t want to be the shortest prime minister in history – even shorter than George Canning who lasted 119 days and whose time in office only came to an end because he died. An election also scares lots of Tory MPs, especially those who might lose their seats.

Johnson might try to enhance his chances by doing a deal with Farage, under which the Tories and Brexit Party wouldn’t stand against each other in an election. But that carries risks too. Some Conservatives MPs and voters will be even more disgusted than they already are – and may defect to the Lib Dems.

That said, pro-Europeans must get ready for an early election. The core element must be a “remain alliance“, bringing together the Lib Dems and Greens – and Labour in some shape if at all possible. The good news is that Jo Swinson, the new Lib Dem, seems up for it and the idea is already being tested in the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election on Thursday

If pro-Europeans join forces, they can defeat Johnson. Knowing this, he probably won’t even call an election.

6 Responses to “Get ready for an early election”

  • Johnson has ruled out an election before 31st October but not one on Thursday 31st October. He has two ways of achieving a dissolution and forcing “no deal” through. Both have the precondition that no primary legislation is brought forward that could be used to stop “no deal” and the government has already hinted that it will starve parliament of such opportunities.

    The government could wait for the then inevitable confidence vote and quietly hope to lose. Labour would dig in for a general election and Johnson could suggest he would be willing to change his mind and hold one before leaving the EU. No alternative government is formed, the default election follows, Johnson seeks a dissolution, and sets polling day to 31st October. It is his choice alone under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011. The polls would close one hour before leaving and “no deal” would be inevitable.

    This is a trap for Labour, and the only way to avoid it is for Labour to compromise with all other non-hard Brexiters to form a new government and obtain a majority in the Commons.

    The British constitution would aid Johnson by allowing him to dissolve parliament until a new parliament meets in November, achieving his goal of leaving the EU “do or die”. Johnson will not waste the gift horse of an automatic election by asking the EU for an extension to hold an election.

    The cabinet manual says that major new policies should not be initiated when an election is outstanding. Since leaving the EU is an existing policy enshrined in legislation, there are effectively no checks and balances on the exercise of prime ministerial discretion as to polling day.

    On the same logic, MPs should vote down any attempt to call an early election without a no-confidence vote, since passing such a motion would hand control of the timetable to Johnson.

  • Hugo,

    The big unknown must surely be the position of the Conservative Party in Parliament. Is it conceivable that the party will still be a single one endorsing a No Deal ticket ? At some stage, surely, the Conservative Party in parliament must recognize that it is fatally wounded and split up.

  • The greatest worry is that an election is called in mid October which would have the effect of suspending parliament. We then automatically crash out of the EU at the end of October before a new government is formed.

  • Harry,

    Hopefully an election would result in a further A50 extension until the result were known. There would be little mileage for the EU in causing an accidental no-deal Brexit.

  • Where is Corbyn in all of this? We see and hear little of him except expelling party members suspected of offending several hundred of the Jewish faith in the UK.

    The Jewish population in the UK is 280,000 or 0.46 per cent. While focusing on what Benji and the Israelis want he is neglecting the rest of us. Get rid of the Israeli moles and put a stop to this ‘attack antisemitism’ effort to destroy the Labour party.

    Corbyn and the Labour party should be going full steam ahead preparing for an election and giving the voting public a unified alternative to Blubbo and his team of terrorists.

    Get Sir Keir on the front page more often! Support him and his efforts to defeat the thieving Tories.