Boris Johnson will use a speech on Thursday to challenge opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to “go back to the people” with a general election to break the Brexit deadlock in the UK parliament.
The government announced earlier that a bill to stop a no-deal Brexit would complete its passage through the House of Lords by Friday afternoon. The proposed legislation, which compels the prime minister to seek a Brexit delay if he has not secured a deal with Brussels, passed through the House of Commons late on Wednesday evening and is now likely to return to the lower house on Monday.
Mr Johnson was defeated again on Wednesday in another Commons vote where he sought to dissolve the government and call an early general election, after Labour MPs were whipped to abstain.
Labour is refusing to back an election until it is confident that a no-deal Brexit has been averted.
A Downing Street spokesman said that if Mr Corbyn continued to avoid an election it would be a “cowardly insult to democracy”.
Mr Johnson, who is effectively trapped in 10 Downing Street by a hostile parliament, will say in Thursday’s speech that he will not accept the requirement in the bill to go to Brussels and “surrender to any demands they make”.
“The PM will not do this. It is clear the only action is to go back to the people and give them the opportunity to decide what they want,” the spokesman said. “Boris to go to Brussels and get a deal, or leave without one on October 31 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 Labour spokesman suggested on Wednesday that the party would proceed rapidly with a vote of no confidence in the Johnson government, perhaps on Monday. That move would be supported by the Scottish National party, which is confident of seizing many seats north of the border from the Tories in a general election.
But Mr Corbyn is under pressure from scores of MPs as well as some smaller parties — the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and The Independent Group for Change — to hold off until the prime minister has sought and achieved a delay to Article 50, the Brexit divorce mechanism.
John McDonnell, shadow chancellor, admitted on Thursday morning that the decision had not yet been nailed down. “We are consulting about whether to go long or to go short,” he told the BBC Today programme.
He told Sky News that the party was consulting about the timing, insisting: “There’s no tug of war within the Labour party.”
Mr McDonnell compared the prime minister to a “toddler” for demanding an election straight away.
“This is like dealing with a two or three-year-old having a tantrum. So you let them have their tantrum and you have to be the grown up in the room,” he said.
“And the grown up in the room is saying, ‘fine, have your tantrum, but we are not going to allow you take this country out on a no-deal Brexit, because you will undermine our economy’.”
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson, who on Tuesday purged 21 Conservative MPs who voted against the government in another Brexit vote, was urged by moderates in his party’s 100-strong “one nation” group to reinstate the rebels.
It also emerged that Mr Johnson was confronted by cabinet ministers led by Michael Gove, Cabinet Office secretary, who urged the prime minister to find a way to overturn his expulsion of the 21 MPs. Other ministers who spoke out at the meeting on Tuesday included Amber Rudd and Matt Hancock.
Damian Green, a former deputy prime minister, demanded in a letter to Mr Johnson that the MPs be restored to the Tory whip. The one-nation group counts Amber Rudd and Nicky Morgan, both cabinet ministers, among its supporters. “We’ve got to bring them back if we want to win the coming election,” said one minister.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, told EU27 ambassadors in Brussels that talks with the British government were “in a state of paralysis”.
His assessment came after David Frost, the UK’s chief negotiator, provided no fresh ideas to replace the Irish backstop during talks in Brussels, according to officials.