Boris Johnson eyes election in ‘days after’ Brexit
Boris Johnson would hold a general election in the “days after” the UK has left the EU on October 31 if he is forced to go the polls following a successful parliamentary no-confidence vote in his government, senior aides to the prime minister have said.
The news hit the pound, with the currency falling to a two-year low against the euro in mid-afternoon trade in London and weakening against the US dollar.
Sterling slid to as low as €1.0794, the lowest level since August 2017, before drawing back to €1.0815. Against the dollar it dropped to $1.2094 and then recovered to trade 0.1 per cent lower at $1.2120.
Mr Johnson has said he does not want to hold an election before Brexit, but his advisers expect he will face a confidence vote soon after parliament returns from its summer break. Senior figures in the Labour party have said they are planning to try and topple his government in early September.
“We can’t stop them forcing an election but we control the timetable so we will force the date after October 31,” said a senior 10 Downing Street official. “If there must be a general election, then it will be days after October 31.”
Another close aide to Mr Johnson did not deny that any election would be held in the first few days of November.
Mr Johnson has insisted that the UK will leave the EU at the end of October, with or without a withdrawal agreement. His team, led by senior adviser Dominic Cummings, believe that if an election is called, MPs will be unable to halt Brexit. This raises the prospect of an election in the days straight after leaving without a deal.
Since 1935, British elections have been held on Thursdays but this is an unwritten convention. The date is de facto decided by the prime minister. The Spectator reported that Friday, November 1 — the day after Brexit — is being considered by Mr Johnson as the most opportune moment for an election if he is forced to go to the polls.
Holding an election straight after Brexit day is seen by some in the party as a risk, but potentially a necessary one to maximise the Tory vote. One official at Conservative HQ said: “It would be the only way to neuter the Brexit party. We can only go to the country once we’ve actually delivered Brexit.”
Others in the party think that the calculation by Mr Johnson and Mr Cummings is that any disruption resulting from a no-deal Brexit would not be apparent by polling day, or would be less harmful than some have predicted.
“By undercutting the party chairman with people who answer straight to him, it’s clear Dom is planning to call an election straight after Brexit day,” said one senior Tory MP. “This would be a massive gamble. Even Tony Blair had to delay because of foot-and-mouth. Cummings is clearly betting on things going better than Justin King expects.”
Mr King, former chief executive of supermarket Sainsbury’s, told the BBC on Wednesday that the UK had 10 days of food stored and “the kind of disruption the government is talking about . . . will lead to gaps on the shelves within a week”.
Sam Lowe, a senior Brexit research fellow at the Centre for European Reform think-tank, said that while the “full consequences of no-deal will take a while to settle in”, he predicted that “issues will begin to emerge from day one”.
“Holding a general election days after seems remarkably reckless in that the management of no-deal will require a focused government committed to the task at hand with ministers ready to take decisions, not half the cabinet on a battle bus in Devon and the civil service constrained by purdah,” he added.
Pro-Remain MPs, led by the former Tory attorney-general Dominic Grieve, are plotting to try and form a caretaker “letter-writing government” comprising MPs from all parties in order to request an extension to the Article 50 divorce process before holding an election.
But Mr Johnson’s allies said the prime minister would not resign if his government loses the confidence of the Commons, instead calling an election facing off the “people versus parliament”. Anti-Brexit campaigners say this opens up the possibility that the Queen would have to choose whether to sack the incumbent prime minister or allow him to call an election.
Insiders at Number 10 said the government was entirely focused on delivering Brexit. “The politicians can’t choose which votes to respect. [Dominic] Grieve and company are destroying their own credibility with their babble about forcing the Queen to cancel the referendum [result],” said an official.