Boris Johnson convened his Cabinet for a crisis meeting this afternoon just one day before the EU is expected to rule on the length of a Brexit delay as speculation mounted he could try to trigger a general election.
The PM met with his most senior ministers in 10 Downing Street from 3pm as they debated the merits and potential pitfalls of a snap poll before Christmas.
Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith said before the meeting took place that there were ‘differing views’ in the Cabinet on going to the country before Brexit has been resolved and that it was hoped a united position would be reached today.
It now looks increasingly likely that the PM could try to pave the way for an election before the end of 2019 as he waits to hear from Brussels on how long Brexit will be postponed for.
The EU is split on whether to offer a short or a long delay and uncertainty grew this afternoon after Catherine Colonna, the French ambassador to the UK, was pictured leaving 10 Downing Street – with Paris believed to favour a delay of just a few weeks.
It is thought the PM could move preemptively this evening to ready the government in case it is a three month extension that is imposed by the bloc.
Mr Johnson could table a motion under the the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 which would allow a vote to be held in the Commons on Monday – parliament is not sitting tomorrow – on whether to hold a snap poll.
By tabling the motion today Mr Johnson will have the option of pressing ahead with the vote on Monday if he believes that what the EU offers is unacceptable.
He has long maintained that he is opposed to any delay to Brexit but in the event the bloc came up with something he could agree to he could always pull the election vote.
The timing of the motion being tabled is key because election rules dictate that there must be 25 working days before polling day.
That means that by tabling the motion today – should it happen – MPs could vote for an election on Monday, Parliament would then be dissolved on Tuesday and the election clock would start ticking on Wednesday.
General elections traditionally happen on Thursdays which means that if the timetable outlined above was stuck to then the nation could go to the polls on December 5.
However, in order to win a vote on holding a general election Mr Johnson will need to secure the support of two thirds of MPs.
Today it remained unclear whether he will be able to reach that threshold after Tory MPs warned the PM an early election could see them ‘stuffed like Christmas turkeys’.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn is battling a Labour rebellion on the same issue amid growing opposition to a snap poll.
A long Brexit delay would almost certainly lead to a snap election being held before Christmas.
Many Tory MPs fear that the party could lose seats in Scotland and London if a vote is held now, because of strong support for Remain in those areas as Mr Johnson pushes for Brexit.
How the EU holds the key to Britain’s Brexit future
EU leaders are mulling Britain’s fate. They are discussing whether to grant Britain a short or long extension with a decision expected tomorrow.
They are also considering whether they need to convene a special summit in Brussels to do this, or the 27 EU leaders can reach a consensus remotely.
If leaders agree a short extension of a few days or weeks, Boris Johnson could try to get his deal over the line and agree a new timetable to get Brexit done.
If they agree an extension until January 31 or beyond, Number 10 says it will pull the Bill and challenge Jeremy Corbyn to an election.
It is thought this would be held before Christmas, with the last feasible date to hold a vote being December 12. After that civil servants have warned that schools will have to cancel nativity plays and other Christmas events to act as polling stations.
It means that how the EU decides to act is crucial in how the future of Brexit and a general election could play out.
Some Tory backbenchers are deeply sceptical that the Conservatives will be able to win a majority at a snap poll – a point they have conveyed to Number 10.
And many of Mr Corbyn’s MPs are set to vote against any move to support Mr Johnson’s wish, fearing an electoral disaster.
However, in a possible sign he could whip them to back a fixed-term parliament act (FTPA) motion next week, one of his most loyal frontbenchers said they would vote for an election as soon as possible.
It comes after MPs handed EU leaders power over the timescale of UK politics, with a decision on how long the UK will remain tied to Brussels expected within days.
One Conservative MP told MailOnline: ‘There is not unalloyed enthusiasm on Tory benches for a general election. That has been fed in.’
Meanwhile a Tory source was even more downbeat as they said: ‘If we go early we’ll be stuffed like Christmas turkeys.’
However, party chairman James Cleverly this morning said: ‘I don’t want to be the Grinch.
‘But the point is democracy is incredibly important and we have been prevented on discharging the duty imposed upon us.’
Many Tory MPs fear the party’s hardline approach to Brexit could cost it seats in Scotland and in London and it is not clear where gains could be made.
A Cabinet minister told The Sun: ‘We’ll lose seats in Scotland and London if it’s all about Brexit, and I can’t see where we’ll pick them up.
Mr Johnson is facing a growing Tory backlash over the prospect of holding an election before Brexit is resolved
Rebecca Long-Bailey said that supporting an immediate election was Labour’s ‘position’, in a radio interview this morning
The French ambassador to the UK, Catherine Colonna, was spotted going into 10 Downing Street this afternoon
‘Labour is very well dug in across the Northern Brexit seats and it will be very difficult to dislodge them.’
France wants the UK out of the EU within 15 days
EU leaders are discussing today whether to grant Britain a short or long extension – with a decision expected tomorrow.
Belgium, Luxembourg and Spain are said to back Mr Macron – with the Netherlands reportedly drifting towards this position.
Germany and Ireland however, are among the countries that are more relaxed about the idea of a three-month delay proposed by European Council president Donald Tusk.
Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s chief adviser, is reportedly leading calls to abandon attempts to get the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal through Parliament and go for an election.
But Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith is said to be among ministers arguing it is still possible to pass a bill ratifying the agreement, despite Tuesday’s defeat for Mr Johnson’s attempt to fast-track it through the Commons.
There are fears among Conservatives that if there is an election before the UK has left the EU, it will play into the hands of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.
Even if Mr Johnson does decide to press for an early election there is no guarantee that he will succeed.
Veteran left-winger Mr Corbyn has vowed to support the PM’s call for a poll as soon as No Deal Brexit has been taken off the table.
But two-thirds of the Commons – 434 MPs – is needed to approve an early election.
And the ‘nightmare’ scenario of the party disintegrating emerged as big beasts Keir Starmer, Emily Thornberry and John McDonnell, who have previously resisted the idea of an early election, stayed ominously silent on the subject.
However Labour HQ has sent out a string of loyalists in recent days to play up the chances of the party backing an early election.
Many of Mr Corbyn’s MPs are set to vote against any move to support Mr Johnson’s wish, fearing an electoral disaster
This morning Rebecca Long-Bailey, seen as a potential successor to the 70-year-old opposition leader, said that such a move was Labour’s ‘position’ in a radio interview this morning.
PM blasted for pulling out of grilling by senior MPs for the third time
The Prime Minister’s decision to pull out of an appearance before senior MPs with less than 24 hours’ notice has been described as ‘extraordinary’.
Boris Johnson had been due to face questioning by the Commons Liaison Committee – made up of select committee chairmen – on Thursday.
But in a handwritten note to the chairwoman, Sarah Wollaston, he asked for a new date to be arranged for ‘five or six months’ on from when he became Prime Minister.
Dr Wollaston said the public would have to ‘draw their own conclusions’ on whether he refused because he is running scared.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘He knows that he’s been Prime Minister for months now, he’s only had two appearances at Prime Minister’s Questions, and again not facing this kind of detailed scrutiny, I don’t think it’s good enough, really.’
Asked on the BBC’s Today programme if Labour would vote for a general election as soon as the Prime Minister asks for one after the EU grants an extension, the shadow business secretary said: ‘That’s our position.
‘But we also want the Prime Minister to look at the compromise that’s been offered that a lot of MPs support, and that’s the ability to be able to properly scrutinise the Bill.’
But John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, today appeared to cast doubt on the party’s desire for an election as he suggested he wanted Mr Johnson to bring back his deal to the Commons for further scrutiny – even though Labour is opposed to it.
‘We’re in the process at the moment of trying to see whether or not this compromise we’ve offered to Boris Johnson will enable him to bring forward a proper programme motion (timetable),’ he said.
It came after senior party figures told MailOnline that Mr Corbyn might not carry enough MPs to help Boris Johnson force a snap election even if he tries.
Frontbenchers fear that the scale of the rebellion by ‘scared” Labour MPs – many of whom are determined to hold a second referendum to cancel Brexit – would be so great that the motion will still be defeated.
Parliament effectively handed the EU control over the UK’s destiny by voting down the PM’s fast-track timetable for the Brexit Bill earlier this week.
That decision killed off the chances of the crucial legislation being passed in time for the October 31 deadline – and left Mr Johnson waiting to hear what extension Brussels will offer.
Despite protests from the premier, the Remainer Benn Act meant he was forced to send a letter on Parliament’s behalf begging for a postponement at the weekend.
The bloc is not expected to give its verdict until at least tomorrow (Friday), with business at Westminster stalled.
The ‘Grinches’ who stole Christmas? Schools could be asked to reschedule their NATIVITY plays to make way for polling stations
Schools could be asked to reschedule their nativity plays so that schools can be used as polling booths for a pre-Christmas general election, it emerged today.
Downing Street wants to go to the polls in December in the hope of getting a majority for a Brexit deal as soon as possible.
But Boris Johnson has been warned of the logistical problems a winter election could bring, including the need for external lighting at polling booths and contingency plans for bad weather, the Times reported.
‘But the point is democracy is incredibly important and we have been prevented on discharging the duty imposed upon us.’
Mr Johnson has insisted that if the EU offers a long extension he will go full-throttle for a snap election.
But he has already failed twice to get support for a ballot in the Commons, as Labour argued that the threat of an accidental No Deal was too serious.
In theory, Mr Corbyn’s 245 MPs should be more than enough to reach the two-thirds threshold, when combined with 288 Tories, 35 SNP and 19 Lib Dems.
Just 100 Labour should be enough to guarantee the motion’s success, but doubts have been raised over whether that would be possible. A recent meeting of the Parliamentary party was said to be ‘unanimous’ in saying that a second referendum must come before an election.
One shadow Cabinet minister told MailOnline: ‘It is awful. He could try, but he probably won’t have the numbers to get it over the line anyway.
‘It just doesn’t stack up.’
The shadow minister predicted that the leadership will wait till the last possible moment and hope events save them from having to make a decision.
‘In principle an Opposition should always be wanting to face the electorate. That is pretty much our only reason for being.
‘But a lot of people are scared of what will happen. Splitting the party that badly would be the nightmare.
‘What is our excuse for not wanting an election? Once we have the extension, what are we going to say?’
The failure of another early election motion next week would take the turmoil at Westminster to a whole new level.
Mr Johnson faces losing a vote on the Queen’s Speech today, meaning there will be no legislative programme.
In previous years that would be the end of a government, as it was a confidence issue.
But the Fixed Term Parliaments Act has laid waste to the constitution, stripping the PM of prerogative powers to seek a new mandate at a time of their choosing.
Instead, Parliament has chosen to prop up Mr Johnson – who is nowhere near having majority – in No10 and order the government to do its will by passing legislation.
Commons rules have been twisted with the help of Speaker John Bercow to facilitate the process, which effectively tears up the normal division of responsibilities between the legislature and executive.
There is no sign that Mr Corbyn or any other MP could put together a majority to become PM in this Parliament.
‘They’ve kicked away the ladder of redemption’: Nine former Tory MPs who voted down Boris Johnson’s bid to leave on October 31 have little chance of rejoining party, says No10 source
A senior government source said the rebels – who include former chancellors Philip Hammond and Ken Clarke, former attorney general Dominic Grieve QC and former development secretary Rory Stewart had ‘kicked away’ the ‘ladder of redemption’.
They all voted for the deal on Tuesday night but against the timetable motion.
One rebel, Antoinette Sandbach, offered to back Mr Johnson on both votes but only if she was given a guarantee she would be readmitted. The offer was refused
After losing that vote Mr Johnson announced he would have to ‘pause’ his legislation and wait for EU leaders to impose a Brexit delay.
The vote had divided the 21 former Tory rebels into ‘two very separate camps’, the source said.
‘We have those who lost the whip but have supported the government since in trying to get a deal through, and we have another group who seem to be totally opposed to Conservative policy and bent on inflicting a vindictive political defeat on the PM.
‘There a ladder of redemption and it follows that the first group has started to climb it, while the other group has kicked it away.’
One rebel, Antoinette Sandbach, offered to back Mr Johnson on both votes but only if she was given a guarantee she would be readmitted and could fight the next election as a Conservative, a source told the Mail.
This offer was refused.
Last night Miss Sandbach claimed her negotiations were ‘primarily’ about giving the House of Commons a bigger say on the post-Brexit relationship with the EU, avoiding No Deal at the end of transition and greater Parliamentary scrutiny of prerogative powers.
But she added: ‘Of course I wanted reassurance that longstanding issues in my association would be dealt with having raised these for over 12 months, as if they were not, returning the whip would be a purely symbolic act, I also wanted reassurance that there was still a place in the party for MPs like me on the one nation wing of the party.
‘As the policy issues weren’t dealt with I and others voted against the programme motion.’
Several local associations have already begun the process of selecting new candidates for the seats.
With an election looming, that process is set to accelerate in the coming weeks, according to a senior Tory source.
Mr Hammond defended his vote, arguing it was wrong to push the deal through at ‘breakneck speed’.
‘I believe in delivering Brexit, but I also believe in Parliamentary scrutiny,’ he wrote on Twitter.
‘That’s why I voted for the Brexit bill to progress to the next stage, but against No10’s plan to rush it through at breakneck speed. Now’s the time for cool heads, to calmly consider the Bill.’
At Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons, Mr Hammond stood alone behind the Speaker’s Chair, with Tory MPs appearing to avoid speaking to him during the one-hour session.