- The UK is on course for an early general election before Christmas.
- Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to call for a snap poll within days.
- Opposition parties are poised to support an early election as soon as the EU agrees to delay Brexit until next year.
- Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is likely to overrule Labour MPs worried about an election.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The United Kingdom is on course for an early general election which will take place before the end of the year.
That’s the unavoidable conclusion to be drawn from recent events which suggest that both the governing Conservatives and the opposition Labour Party are poised to go back to the polls.
Here’s why we can all expect British voters to head to the ballot box before Christmas.
Boris Johnson wants an early election
Everything that Boris Johnson and his closest advisers have said and done since he became prime minister suggests that they are determined to secure an early election.
Johnson inherited a tiny parliamentary majority, which he soon lost after a series of defections and his extraordinary decision to expel 21 members of Parliament from his party.
The latter action was made on the assumption that a general election was imminent and there was some shock in Downing Street when that early election was refused by opposition parties.
While there is some dissent, both in Johnson’s leadership team and the wider party, about the wisdom of an early election, those backing an early poll such as his senior adviser Dominic Cummings, are very much in the ascendancy.
As a result, the government is now preparing to schedule a parliamentary vote on holding an election as early as Friday, according to the Times.
Jeremy Corbyn now also wants an early election
Under the terms of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, an election can only take place in the UK every five years unless two-thirds of MPs agree otherwise.
On the two previous occasions when Johnson has sought to secure that two-thirds majority, he has failed thanks to both Labour and other opposition parties refusing to back an early poll.
Labour justified this decision at the time as a means of preventing Johnson taking the UK out of the EU without a deal. However, the other motivating factor was a belief among some in Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet that forcing Johnson to delay Brexit instead would give Labour their best bet of winning an early election.
However, some around Corbyn now believe that this latter calculation was badly misjudged and that an October election, before Johnson had secured a deal with the EU, would have been the party’s best and possibly only chance of preventing an election victory for the government.
As a result the Labour leadership now favours an early election, preferably before Johnson has ratified a deal with the EU. However, there’s a big problem.
Most Labour MPs don’t want an election
Recent opinion polls suggest that the Labour Party is in serious trouble, having lost the support of large numbers of voters in favour of remaining in the EU to the pro-EU Liberal Democrats. By contrast, while the Remain vote is now heavily split, the Leave vote is leaning strongly towards the Conservatives, with Nigel Farage’s Brexit party fading.
This means that the Labour Party is likely to lose votes and seats in both directions, with only a slim chance of securing the majority they would need in order to form a stable government and fulfill their promises to hold a second referendum and reverse ten years of austerity.
But other opposition parties want an election now
Despite this reluctance among backbench Labour MPs, an early general election is still more likely than not thanks to other opposition parties seeing it as being in their interest to back one now.
For both the UK’s third and fourth biggest parties, the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats, a pre-Brexit election will allow them to scoop up Remain voters unhappy with the direction the country is heading, while downplaying debates on other issues where they are weaker.
For the SNP, that means avoiding a post-Brexit election which would be dominated by their divisive calls for Scottish independence and for the Lib Dems it means avoiding a post-Brexit election where the Labour Party would be free again to hammer them for their support for austerity while in a coalition government with the Conservatives.
For this reason, even if there is a sizeable rebellion against Corbyn’s call for his party to back an early election, the government probably has the numbers it needs to ensure one this year.
It all comes down to Corbyn and the EU
There is one significant caveat, which is that the EU might decide, under pressure from French President Emmanuel Macron, that the UK should only be granted a short extension to Brexit in order to ratify the new deal.
If that were to happen then Corbyn (and possibly Johnson himself) may decide that it would be better to wait until the New Year before going back to the polls.
However, most EU commentators do not believe this will be the outcome of discussions between European leaders, because doing so would be seen as attempting to interfere in UK politics.
The more likely outcome on Friday is that the EU will agree to the UK’s request to delay Brexit until the end of January. And if that does happen then Corbyn will have little excuse for avoiding an election.
The decision over whether to hold an election will then ultimately be for the Labour leader to make.
If he decides that an early election is in his party’s interests then it will take place. If, on the other hand, he decides that the scale of the rebellion within his party is so large that an early poll would tear them apart, then he may ultimately decide against it.
At the front of both his mind and that of Labour MPs will be the thought that delaying further, possibly until Johnson has secured Britain’s exit from the EU, will only increase support for the Conservatives.
This in turn would destroy any prospect of ever softening or preventing the UK’s exit from the EU.
For all of these reasons, the country is now odds-on for a general election before the year is out.
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