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Boris Johnson Won’t Give Up on Trying to Force a U.K. Election

Tim Ross and Jessica Shankleman
Boris Johnson Won’t Give Up on Trying to Force a U.K. Election

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Boris Johnson is stuck, pushing for an election to unlock Brexit after failing for a third time to trigger a snap poll.

Yet the U.K. leader remains doggedly determined to secure a third general election in a tumultuous four years. On Tuesday, he will try again to persuade reluctant Members of Parliament -- this time using an easier legal route. The pound fell.

The U.K. voted to leave the European Union in 2016, yet it remains trapped in a long-term relationship with the 500-million strong trading bloc. Two prime ministers have now secured divorce deals with the EU, only to encounter political hurdles getting it approved back home.

Changing the parliamentary math with an election seems the only way out.

“We will not allow this paralysis to continue,” Johnson told MPs on Monday. “One way or another, we must proceed straight to an election.”

Earlier, envoys from European governments considered the U.K.’s political chaos from a meeting room in Brussels.

New Deadline

They decided Britain needs more time to sort out its plans and agreed to extend the deadline from Thursday -- the date the country had been due to exit the bloc -- to Jan. 31.

That allows a clear window for British politicians to put their rival visions for Brexit to voters in a general election. Johnson and his team say Parliament is broken and “dead,” and needs to be dissolved.

They want a Conservative majority government, but in order to trigger that election they needed a “super-majority” of two-thirds of MPs to vote for it. Johnson’s third attempt to win that vote failed on Monday and he said instead he will propose a one-line bill, a basic piece of legislation, changing the date set in law for the next election to Dec. 12.

Simple Majority

He will only need a simple majority in the Commons, rather than two-thirds of MPs, for the bill to pass. Opposition legislators from the Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party have indicated they are willing to back a motion along similar lines, though their support is not yet certain.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said they needed a “cast iron assurance” the government won’t try to try to reintroduce the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill while election bill is going through stages of parliament, or before parliament is dissolved for an election.

Liberal Democrat Leader Jo Swinson said she wouldn’t even trust Johnson if he gave that assurance. She’s called for an earlier Dec. 9 election to ensure no time would be available for Brexiters to push through the deal.

The risk for Johnson is that politicians could try to amend his one-line bill to set conditions on the election that he will not like.

Either way, Johnson made clear he is giving up on his attempt to get his Brexit deal ratified in Parliament before the election. There is “no support” among MPs for pushing through the law implementing his divorce agreement in the short time available, he said. 

With the U.K. still in the EU, the poll, when it comes, is likely to turn into a proxy referendum on Brexit.

It will be potentially the final opportunity for voters to choose between parties offering to stop Brexit or force through the split at any cost. 

(Adds pound in second paragraph.)

--With assistance from Robert Hutton.

To contact the reporters on this story: Tim Ross in London at tross54@bloomberg.net;Jessica Shankleman in London at jshankleman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Flavia Krause-Jackson at fjackson@bloomberg.net

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