British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is prepared to call a snap election this week if a group of MPs successfully passes legislation that could delay Britain’s departure from the European Union.
Members of Parliament return to work on Tuesday and battle lines have been drawn between Mr. Johnson and a “rebel alliance” of Conservative and opposition MPs who have vowed to prevent Britain leaving the EU on Oct. 31 without an agreement. The rebels plan to try to wrest control of the parliamentary agenda in order to pass legislation that would compel Mr. Johnson to seek a three-month extension to the deadline if he hasn’t struck a deal by Oct. 19.
On Monday, Mr. Johnson urged MPs to reject that plan and unite behind his Brexit strategy, which calls for the country to leave on Halloween with or without an agreement. In a statement outside No. 10 Downing Street, Mr. Johnson said he was making progress on a deal because EU officials were convinced that he was serious about the deadline.
If MPs vote to delay Brexit, “they will plainly chop the legs out from under the U.K. position and make any further negotiation absolutely impossible,” he said. “I want everybody to know – there are no circumstances in which I will ask Brussels to delay. We are leaving on 31 October, no ifs or buts.”
Mr. Johnson has been adamant about the Brexit deadline ever since he became Conservative Party Leader and Prime Minister in July. But his main stumbling block has been in Parliament where the Tories and their allies, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, have a working majority of just one seat. That has emboldened the opposition and some Tory MPs to work together to prevent a no-deal Brexit, which they argue would lead to chaos at the border and cause untold damage to the economy.
The Prime Minister has been working relentlessly to head off the rebellion. He has already moved to suspend Parliament next week until Oct. 14, giving the opposition little time to manoeuvre. His officials have also issued dire warnings to Tory MPs, telling them that if they side with the opposition, they will be expelled from caucus and stripped of their nomination as Conservative candidates.
Mr. Johnson said on Monday that he didn’t want an election, but government sources told several media outlets that the Prime Minister has few other options and that a motion to trigger an election could come on Wednesday.
He needs the support of two-thirds of MPs to call an election, which could be held as early as Oct. 14. Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn has indicated that he would agree to a vote as long as it was held before Oct. 31.
Several prominent Conservatives have lashed out at Mr. Johnson’s heavy-handed tactics and criticized the threats from his advisers. “It does seem to me that they’re almost goading people into voting against the government because I think their strategy, to be honest, is to lose this week and then seek a general election, having removed those of us who are not against Brexit, not against leaving the European Union, but believe we should do so with a deal,” former justice minister David Gauke told the BBC.
Former chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond also indicated that he was unmoved by the strategy. “I want to honour our 2017 [election platform] which promised a ‘smooth and orderly’ exit and a ‘deep and special partnership’ with the EU,” Mr. Hammond said on Twitter. “Not an undemocratic no deal.”
But Education Minister Gavin Williamson backed Mr. Johnson’s hard-line stand and said it was necessary. “Anyone who is voting against the government is in a position where they are voting to undermine the Prime Minister’s negotiating hand,” Mr. Williamson told ITV’s Good Morning Britain. “They should think very seriously about that and the consequences."
The parliamentary wrangling and Brexit uncertainty has increased wariness about the country’s economy. On Monday, a key monthly survey found that activity among British manufacturers had contracted at the fastest rate in more than seven years in August, prompting fears the country could be headed for a recession.
Concerns about Brexit have prompted some EU-based clients to move supply chains away from Britain, said the survey by IHS Markit, which also found that business optimism had dropped to the lowest level since 2012. “Business conditions deteriorated to the greatest extent in seven years, as companies scaled back production in response to the steepest drop in new order intakes since mid 2012,” said Rob Dobson, director at IHS Markit.