Brexit stand­off could spark UK elec­tion

The Prince George Citizen - - Money -

With Bri­tain’s depar­ture from the Euro­pean Union due in less than 100 days, new Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son is a man in a hurry. But he’s not rush­ing off to Brus­sels.

The U.K. leader has no meet­ings sched­uled with EU of­fi­cials. Instead, he was in cen­tral Eng­land on Fri­day, talk­ing about his prom­ise to re­cruit 20,000 more po­lice of­fi­cers. In the com­ing days he’ll speak on other as­pects of a packed do­mes­tic agenda that looks sus­pi­ciously like an elec­tion plat­form.

Bri­tain’s next sched­uled elec­tion is three years away, but signs sug­gest John­son may be pre­par­ing for a snap poll within weeks or months to break the Brexit im­passe that de­feated his pre­de­ces­sor, Theresa May. She re­signed after fail­ing, three times, to get Par­lia­ment’s back­ing for her divorce deal with the EU.

John­son won a contest to re­place her as Con­ser­va­tive leader and prime min­is­ter by promis­ing that the U.K. will leave the 28-nation bloc on the sched­uled date of Oct. 31, with or with­out a divorce deal.

But Tim Dur­rant, se­nior re­searcher at the In­sti­tute for Gov­ern­ment, an in­de­pen­dent think­tank, said John­son “has ex­actly the same par­lia­men­tary arith­metic to deal with as May” – no over­all House of Com­mons ma­jor­ity and a set of lawmakers who so far have re­jected all at­tempts to leave the EU ei­ther with or with­out a divorce deal.

“He is clearly po­si­tion­ing him­self as the per­son to get Brexit done, and the way to change the par­lia­men­tary arith­metic is to have an elec­tion,” Dur­rant said.

Asked Fri­day if he would rule out calling an elec­tion, John­son said: “Ab­so­lutely.” But his pre­de­ces­sor, Theresa May, also in­sisted she would not hold a snap elec­tion – and then did, in 2017.

In the House of Com­mons on Thurs­day, John­son said Bri­tons had had mul­ti­ple chances to vote re­cently, with two elec­tions and an EU mem­ber­ship ref­er­en­dum in the past four years.

“The people of this coun­try have voted in 2015, 2016 and 2017, and what they want to see is this Par­lia­ment de­liv­er­ing on the man­date that they gave us” to leave the EU, he said.

Lay­ing out his pri­or­i­ties in his first Com­mons state­ment as prime min­is­ter, John­son said he wanted Bri­tain to leave the EU with a deal. But he also in­sisted the EU make ma­jor changes to May’s spurned with­drawal agree­ment, in­clud­ing scrap­ping an in­sur­ance pol­icy for the Ir­ish bor­der that has been re­jected by U.K. lawmakers.

The EU, which has long said it will not change the agree­ment, called John­son’s stance com­bat­ive and un­help­ful.

Ir­ish Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Si­mon Coveney said Fri­day that John­son was putting him­self on a “col­li­sion course” with the bloc.

“The ap­proach that the Bri­tish prime min­is­ter seems to now be tak­ing is not go­ing to be the ba­sis of an agree­ment,” he said. “And that’s wor­ry­ing for every­body.

“From a Brexit ne­go­ti­at­ing per­spec­tive, it was a very bad day yes­ter­day.”

From a Bri­tish po­lit­i­cal per­spec­tive, how­ever, there’s a logic to John­son’s moves. Univer­sity of Not­ting­ham pol­i­tics pro­fes­sor Steven Field­ing said the prime min­is­ter was pre­par­ing to blame Brus­sels if the Brexit talks fail and Bri­tain faces a dis­rup­tive no-deal exit.

“The most likely sce­nario is Boris goes off to Brus­sels, Brus­sels says no, Boris says ‘Brus­sels is dic­tat­ing to us . We want to do a deal but they won’t let us do a deal,”’ Field­ing said. “Ramp­ing all of that up and then say­ing, ‘Come and sup­port me on the road to our glo­ri­ous Brexit’ – and call an elec­tion.”

Field­ing said “it makes more sense for him to go to the coun­try be­fore Brexit than after” be­cause of the po­ten­tial up­heaval that could fol­low a no-deal exit.

Econ­o­mists warn that leav­ing the bloc with­out an agree­ment on terms would dis­rupt trade by im­pos­ing tar­iffs and cus­toms checks between Bri­tain and the bloc. The Bri­tish gov­ern­ment’s fi­nan­cial watch­dog says that could send the value of the pound plum­met­ing and push the U.K. into re­ces­sion.

Bri­tish elec­tion cam­paigns last five weeks, so John­son would have to act in Septem­ber if he seeks a vote be­fore Oct. 31.

A snap elec­tion needs to be backed by two-thirds of lawmakers in the House of Com­mons – a thresh­old that would likely be reached, since op­po­si­tion par­ties are ea­ger for one.

Par­lia­ment does not re­turn from sum­mer break un­til Sept. 3, though lawmakers could be re­called early if needed.

An elec­tion could also be trig­gered if Par­lia­ment passes a no-con­fi­dence vote in the gov­ern­ment, some­thing that needs a sim­ple ma­jor­ity of lawmakers. John­son’s mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment is vul­ner­a­ble to such a challenge.

AP PHOTO

Bri­tain’s Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son appears Fri­day at West Mid­lands Po­lice Learn­ing and Devel­op­ment Cen­tre in Birm­ing­ham, Eng­land.

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