Still squabbling ... but a deal can be done today
What happened in the Commons last night?
MPs voted by 299 votes to 0 in favour of a General Election on December 12, but failed to deliver the two thirds majority required under the FixedTerm Parliaments Act. Labour abstained after Jeremy Corbyn issued a rambling explanation of why he was opposed to an election – including that it would be ‘too dark’. Boris Johnson accused him of ‘running away from the judgment of the people’.
Does it mean no election?
No. Immediately after the vote, Mr Johnson stood up in the Commons and announced he would publish a short Bill to change the law and set the date for an election on December 12. This would require only a simple majority of MPs to succeed. He said the Commons couldn’t ‘keep the country hostage’ any longer.
Will the Bill get through?
It’s unclear. Over the weekend the Liberal Democrats and the SNP, who both want an election, proposed a Bill similar to Mr Johnson’s but with the date set for December 9. Last night the Lib Dems suggested they wouldn’t vote for Mr Johnson’s later election date, potentially throwing a huge spanner in the works. The SNP said it wouldn’t be ‘dancing to Boris Johnson’s tune’.
Would three extra days make much difference?
In the grand scheme of things, no. But there is some suggestion the Lib Dems and Labour would prefer an earlier poll because more students would be at university, potentially handing the opposition parties an advantage. However many major universities finish for Christmas on Friday, December 13. Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson is also concerned Mr Johnson could try to bring the Brexit Bill back and rush it through before polling day. That was effectively ruled out by No 10 last night.
What is in store today?
Either the pro-election parties come to an agreement fast or they are going to run out of time to get a poll before Christmas. A full 25 working days must be allowed between Parliament dissolving and an election taking place. No 10 insists an election on December 9 isn’t possible, because there isn’t enough time to get the Bill through – along with other essential parliamentary business – by close of play on Thursday. But if the election was slightly later there is enough time to get it through, in theory.
What is No 10’s view?
Downing Street sources suggested that the Prime Minister might be prepared to compromise, by suggesting a ‘range’ of dates were possible between December 9 and 12. But a decision has to be made quickly. If the Bill doesn’t pass its second reading in the Commons tomorrow cleanly, then the preChristmas election is effectively off. Ministers cannot go any later than December 12 because they risk running into the Christmas period. Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill has warned that the 12th is the latest date or the election would mean turfing pantomimes, parties and nativity plays out of village halls and schools used as polling stations.
Are there any other obstacles to a poll?
In theory the House of Lords could cause trouble and delay the Bill and MPs in the Commons could try to amend it with votes for 16- and 1 - year-olds. But peers would be highly unwise to try to block the legislation and changing the franchise so late would make an election impossible. The Lib Dems and SNP would be killing off the election if they voted in favour of such changes.
What about the Brexit Withdrawal Bill?
No 10 says the legislation to take Britain out of the European Union is dead until after the election. Sources suggested the Prime Minister would have been prepared to bring the Bill back this week if Labour pro-leave MPs agreed to back it through the Commons. Those assurances were not forthcoming.
Holding out? Jo Swinson in the House of Commons yesterday