Boris Johnson Seeks December 12 General Election to Break Brexit Impasse

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U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for a snap election on Dec. 12 as the only way to end the Brexit “nightmare” that has paralyzed the country.

Johnson announced that a motion to trigger an early poll will be put to a vote in the House of Commons on Monday. It will require two-thirds of members of Parliament to support the proposal for the election to take place.

If Johnson succeeds, there is a chance MPs could speed his Brexit deal into law before Parliament is dissolved for the campaign to begin on Nov 6. That would mean the U.K. would be out of the European Union before voters go to the polling stations.

More likely, however, is that the EU extends the Brexit day deadline to Jan. 31 and the election then becomes a proxy referendum on Johnson’s strategy. It would be for whichever party forms the next government to resolve the impasse that has left the U.K. in limbo, unable to complete its divorce from the EU, three and-a-half years after voting to leave.

‘End this nightmare’

“It is our duty to end this nightmare and provide the country with a solution as soon as we reasonably can,” Johnson said in a letter to Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, appealing for his MPs to back an election. “These repeated delays have been bad for the economy, bad for businesses, and bad for millions of people trying to plan their futures.”

It would be the third general election the U.K. has been through in four years, and the second since the seismic shift in British politics from the 2016 referendum vote. In a political context of extreme volatility, the contest will be difficult to predict.

The Brexit referendum split the country and redrew the political debate, breaking the old party structures that have held sway in the U.K. for decades. In 2017, Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May called an early election with her party 25 points ahead of Labour in the opinion polls.

Crisis Britain
Instead of reaping the landslide she had expected, May lost the slim majority she started with, paralyzing Parliament and plunging Britain into a political and constitutional crisis in which it remains.

In an initial response to Johnson’s plan, Labour said it will back an election once a no-deal Brexit has been ruled out, and if the EU grants the U.K. an extension to the Oct. 31 deadline. The EU is widely expected to agree to a three-month delay when ambassadors meet in Brussels on Friday, putting back the U.K.’s exit until Jan. 31.

Johnson told Corbyn he would prefer a short extension to the deadline until the middle of November but expected the EU to require a longer delay until the end of January. In those circumstances, an election would be essential, he said.

January Brexit

“If I win a majority in this election, we will then ratify this great new deal that I have negotiated, get Brexit done in January and the country will move on,” Johnson wrote to Corbyn. “If you win a majority, then you will, I assume, implement your policy: that is, you will ask for another delay after 31 January 2020 to give you the time both to renegotiate a new deal then have a referendum, in which you may or may not campaign for your own deal.”

Johnson will need two-thirds of the MPs in the Commons to back the motion on Monday, giving Labour an effective veto if all of its 245 members refuse. He’s twice failed to win Parliament’s support for an early national vote.

If Parliament gives its approval there will need to be 25 working days after it is dissolved before an election can be held.

Johnson pledged “do or die” to get Brexit done by the existing deadline of Oct. 31, and tried to get parliamentary approval for an accelerated timetable to pass his agreement into U.K. law. MPs voted in favor of the deal in principle — but rejected a fast-track plan to rush the deal into low in just three days of Commons debates, leaving the U.K.’s European divorce stuck.

Johnson was required to seek a Brexit extension to Jan. 31 when he failed to get a deal through Parliament by Oct. 19 and the EU is due to give its formal response on Friday morning.