Momentum builds behind a pre-Christmas election

Will an election be called this week? That’s the growing expectation among Conservative MPs. Later today the government will hold a vote on an early election for December 12 under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. To pass, Boris Johnson needs two thirds of MPs to back him. However, this is very unlikely – with Labour MPs planning to abstain and both the Lib Dems and SNP opposing on the grounds that Johnson’s plan would see his government bring the Withdrawal Agreement Bill back to the Commons before going to the polls.

Instead, there is a sense that Tuesday could see a pre-Christmas election agreed upon. Over the weekend, the Liberal Democrats and SNP said that they hoped to table a one line bill for an election on 9 December – on the grounds that there would be no vote on Johnson’s Brexit deal before this. These MPs have concluded that a second referendum before a general election is very unlikely so the best chance to stop Brexit is to have a pre-Brexit election.

If Johnson’s election Plan A fails tonight, government figures suggest that their Plan B will involve tabling a similar bill on Tuesday to what the Lib Dems and SNP have proposed and seeking an election this way. The bill would require only a simple majority (as it overrides the Fixed-term Parliaments Act) to pass. The reason the Tories have been sceptical of this route previously is the motion is amendable and there was a worry a proposal such as ‘votes for 16-year-olds’ could be added on. The Liberal Democrats have suggested they would not add amendments – on the grounds that they want a swift election.

There are some Tory MPs – and numerous Tory rebels – who would prefer Boris Johnson to focus on trying to pass his Brexit deal in the weeks to come rather than going to an election with Brexit unresolved. However, senior figures in Downing Street are heavily sceptical that there is a majority in this parliament to pass Johnson’s deal unscathed. While a majority in favour of an election in Tuesday’s vote is not guaranteed, a pre-Christmas poll is now where the momentum is. Labour MPs are notably downcast today. ‘Whatever we do, it looks as though that’s where we’re headed,’ one tells me.

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