British opposition backs early election in bid to break Brexit logjam

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said the condition of ruling out a no-deal Brexit had been met so he would support an election.
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said the condition of ruling out a no-deal Brexit had been met so he would support an election.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

LONDON (REUTERS) - Britain was heading towards its first December election in almost a century after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's bet on breaking the Brexit deadlock with an early ballot gained support from opposition parties on Tuesday (Oct 29).

As the European Union agreed a third delay to the divorce that was originally supposed to take place on March 29, the United Kingdom, its Parliament and its electorate remain divided on how or indeed whether to go ahead with Brexit.

Johnson, who had promised to deliver Brexit on Oct 31 "do or die", has repeatedly demanded an election to end what he casts as a nightmare paralysis that is sapping public trust in politicians by preventing any Brexit outcome at all.

After Parliament refused Johnson his third demand for an election on Monday, he will try to force a bill through Parliament on Tuesday that calls for a Dec 12 election. It needs a simple majority in Parliament.

In a move that aligns the stars for an election after months of Brexit discord, the opposition Labour Party's leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said the condition of ruling out a no-deal Brexit had been met so he would support an election.

"Labour will back a general election," said Corbyn, a veteran socialist campaigner. "The Labour Party loves a debate but they also love the end of the debate, and this is the end of the debate: We are going out there to win."

The first Christmas election in Britain since 1923 would be highly unpredictable: Brexit has variously fatigued and enraged swathes of voters while eroding traditional loyalties to the two major parties, Conservative and Labour.

Some politicians feel an election so close to Christmas could irritate voters, while campaigning and getting the vote out could be hampered by cold weather.

Ultimately, voters would have a choice between an emboldened Johnson pushing for his Brexit deal or a socialist government under Corbyn renegotiating the deal before a referendum.

If no party wins conclusively, the Brexit deadlock will continue.

CHRISTMAS ELECTION?

After four years of arguing over Brexit, almost all British politicians now agree an election is needed to break the cycle of inaction that has shocked allies of a country once considered a bastion of stable Western capitalism and democracy.

An election, though, could decide the fate of Brexit as well as the main players - Johnson, 55, and his rival Corbyn, 70.

When Johnson's predecessor, Theresa May, bet on an early election in 2017, she lost her slender majority - a failure that ultimately prevented her from ratifying her Brexit deal and sank her political career.

Johnson's Conservatives are ahead of Labour by an average of about 10 percentage points in polls this month, though pollsters underestimated the support for Brexit in 2016 and admit that the models they use are wilting beside the Brexit furnace.

Both major parties face a fight on at least three fronts: The Brexit Party led by Nigel Farage will seek to poach Brexit voters while the Liberal Democrats will seek to win over opponents of Brexit.

 
 
 
 

"This will probably be the most unpredictable election I have ever known," Anand Menon, director of The UK in a Changing Europe, told Reuters.

"Is it Brexit or is it not? We don't know. Second, the election is as volatile as ever and, thirdly, the potential for tactical voting - and tactical voting to go wrong - is very high given the leave-remain split," he said.

VOTES ON VOTES

Lawmakers on Tuesday approved the timetable for Johnson's"Early Parliamentary General Election Bill" without a formal vote. Two votes on the bill itself will take place from around 1730 GMT (1.30am Singapore time, on Wednesday).

Lawmakers could still bring significant changes to Johnson's bill. Opposition parties are squabbling over which day in early December is best for an election, Johnson told his cabinet of senior ministers that there was not enough time to change who could vote in the election, ruling out ideas put forward by some opposition parties to lower the voting age and allow EU citizens to vote.

Meanwhile, the legislation enacting Johnson's Brexit deal has been put on hold, pending an election, Jacob Rees-Mogg, who oversees the government's legislative agenda in the House of Commons, said.

Behind the bickering, though, Johnson is closer to an election than he has ever been in his tumultuous 3-month premiership.

Among voters, there was some relief that the Brexit debate might be ending soon.

"We've just got to bring this to some sort of resolution,"commuter Matt Finch, 36, told Reuters outside London's Charing Cross rail station. "We've had many votes in the last 12 months in parliament and I think a general election might be a way to sort it all out."