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Stop holding UK "hostage", govt says as it steps up pressure on parliament

By Elizabeth Piper

By Elizabeth Piper

LONDON, Oct 27 (Reuters) - Boris Johnson's Conservatives stepped up pressure on lawmakers on Sunday to back the prime minister's bid to hold an early election and break Britain's Brexit impasse, saying the country was being held "hostage" by parliament.

But with the main opposition Labour Party waiting for the European Union to grant a Brexit delay and two other parties launching their own bid for an even earlier election, the government's bid so far looks set to fail.

Britain was due to leave the EU on Thursday, but despite the government arguing this is still the legal default date, few expect Johnson to meet his "do or die" promise to deliver Brexit on Oct. 31 after the bloc agreed to another delay.

More than three years since Britain voted to leave the EU, the divided country and its parliament are still debating over how, when and even whether Brexit, Britain's biggest policy shift for more than 40 years, should happen.

All Britain's political parties agree an election is needed to break the standoff over Brexit, but cannot agree on its timing. For many lawmakers, an attempt by Johnson to set the terms of a new election raises concerns that he might renege.

"Parliament cannot hold the country hostage any longer," Johnson said late on Saturday. "Millions of businesses and people cannot plan their futures, this paralysis is causing real damage and the country must move on in 2020."

His culture minister, Nicky Morgan, doubled down on the message on Sunday, warning lawmakers that Thursday was still "the default leaving date".

"So that should focus minds," she told Sky News.

Asked what would happen if the government failed on Monday in its early election bid, Morgan said: "We will keep asking for that election and we will find ways to do that."


"STOP THROWING TANTRUMS"

On Thursday, Johnson called for a general election on Dec. 12, offering parliament until Nov. 6 to ratify his Brexit deal - the first time Britain's prime minister had conceded he would not meet his Oct. 31 deadline.

It is his third attempt to get the required backing in parliament, where he needs the support of two-thirds of its 650 lawmakers for a new election.

Almost immediately, Labour said it could not back a new election until the party was sure a so-called no-deal Brexit had been taken off the table.

On Sunday, the party's health policy chief, Jon Ashworth, again said the party would wait for the EU to decide on the length of any Brexit extension before taking a decision.

"Of course we want a general election but we've got to make sure that we get those absolute reassurances that Boris Johnson won't use a general election and the campaign to crash us out of the European Union with a disastrous no-deal Brexit," he said.

"That is what we're waiting for."

The EU has agreed there should be an extension but has set no departure date, saying it would wait to see how parliament voted on Johnson's call for an early election.

Taking a different tack, two other opposition parties, the Scottish National Party and Liberal Democrats, have written to Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, to ask for a delay until Jan. 31. They want a new poll on Dec. 9.

But the Conservatives and Labour described the move as a stunt, putting into question whether the two parties' alternative bid could be passed by parliament.

With the government looking likely to lose its vote on Monday, former finance minister Philip Hammond had a word of warning for the prime minister.

"I shall be voting against him. This is not the time to be holding a general election, it is a time for cool heads and grown-up government," Hammond told Sky News.

"The government should stop making threats, stop throwing tantrums and get on with the grown-up business of doing its business." (Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Dale Hudson)