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UK in effective general election mode amid Brexit turmoil

PTI London | Updated on September 05, 2019 Published on September 05, 2019

British Union Jack flag files in front of the clock face of Big Ben   -  REUTERS

The UK on Thursday went into what Downing Street has branded as the first day of a general election campaign, despite Prime Minister Boris Johnson failing to get his motion for a snap poll through the House of Commons.

Following a night of blow after blow over Brexit on Wednesday, Johnson is determined to get his October 15 election date through and has accused Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn of being a chicken for his party’s abstention from the election vote in Parliament.

Opposition parties stance

The Labour and other Opposition parties, refused to hand him the two-thirds majority he requires to overturn the UK’s Fixed Term Parliament Act until their own motion to block a no-deal Brexit by the October 31 deadline has passed through the Lords and on course to become law.

It is clear the only action is to go back to the people and give them the opportunity to decide what they want: Boris to go to Brussels and get a deal, or leave without one on 31 October or Jeremy Corbyn arriving in Brussels with his surrender bill begging for more delay, more dither and accepting whatever terms Brussels imposes over our nation, a Downing Street spokesperson said on Thursday.

For Jeremy Corbyn to continue to avoid an election would be a cowardly insult to democracy, the spokesperson said.

The Opposition emerged buoyed from parliamentary proceedings on Wednesday, having got their proposed legislation to prevent the UK crashing out of the European Union (EU) without an agreement in place through its various stages. The bill says Johnson has until 19 October to either pass a deal in Parliament or get MPs to approve a no-deal Brexit — and after that he will have to request an extension to the UK’s departure date to January 31, 2020.

Challenges for Boris Johnson

Johnson, who assumed charge on July 24 after his predecessor Theresa May resigned, had branded the motion a surrender bill , which in effect handed power to the EU negotiators over the terms of the UK’s exit from the 28-member economic bloc.

The UK government ultimately had to drop its attempt to drag on the so-called surrender bill in the Lords late on Wednesday night, meaning it is set to pass and go through as law by Monday.

This could mean Johnson attempting to push through another election motion again next week because he is determined to go back to the electorate rather than back to Brussels to seek another delay to the Brexit deadline.

I think the position by the Labour Party, to be so consumed by cowardice as to resist a general election, is not politically sustainable, Johnson said at the end of a marathon Commons session on Wednesday.

The British prime minister has claimed he is serious about striking a deal with EU leaders to allow for an orderly withdrawal from the bloc at the end of next month after 46 years of membership.

But the EU side has spoken of a paralysis in the talks, with no movement or solutions to the most controversial aspect of any divorce arrangement — the Irish backstop.

Boris Johnson’s strategy

The British prime minister had a month’s time to come up with his proposed alternative arrangements to ensure an open border between EU member-country Ireland and UK territory Northern Ireland after Brexit. However, the EU says it has not received any credible proposals from Britain so far.

Options ahead for UK

Various expert opinions and leaked assessments from within the government indicate a no-deal Brexit could lead to food and fuel shortages and disrupt vital drug supplies. However, hard Brexiteers from Johnson’s camp have dismissed these as scare-mongering and insisted that taking no-deal off the table would weaken the UK’s hand in the Brexit negotiations.

If the Conservative Party leader’s determination to call a snap general election before the October 31 Brexit deadline passes through its parliamentary hurdles, it would be the third election since 2015 and second since the referendum in favour of Brexit in June 2016.

The last snap general election was called by Theresa May in June 2017, who returned to power only thanks to an arrangement with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to make up for a working majority in the Commons.

Her successor’s position is even more precarious, as Johnson lost his majority in the House earlier this week following a defection and has since proceeded to expel 21 Tory MPs for voting with the Opposition to block a no-deal Brexit.

The far-right anti-EU Brexit Party led by Nigel Farage has also warned the British PM that the Tories stand to lose seats in any election over the failure to leave the EU despite his “do or die” pledge to meet the October 31 deadline.

Published on September 05, 2019
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