U.K. Opposition Parties to Deny Boris Johnson His Early Election
Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, and David Davis, at the party’s annual conference in Manchester, U.K. (Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)

U.K. Opposition Parties to Deny Boris Johnson His Early Election

(Bloomberg) --

Opposition parties forged a united front to deny Prime Minister Boris Johnson the early general election he wants -- making a poll unlikely until November at the earliest -- to ensure the U.K. can’t tumble out of the European Union without a deal.

In a conference call Friday, the parties -- including Labour, the Scottish National Party, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Independent Group for Change -- agreed to a unified position for the government’s planned vote in Parliament on Monday, said two people familiar with the decision. They also decided against calling a vote of no confidence in the government on Monday.

While the opposition parties do want a general election, their priority is to ensure Johnson can’t take the U.K. out of the EU on Oct. 31 without a deal -- something he’s threatened to do if he can’t secure a new agreement with Brussels. He has said an election is the only way out of the political impasse, and on Friday accused the parties of denying voters their say.

“There are people in Parliament who plainly want to block” Brexit, including Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and the SNP, Johnson told Sky News. “They don’t want the election -- OK -- perhaps they don’t think they will win. Fine. I’ll go to Brussels, I’ll get a deal, and we’ll make sure we come out on Oct. 31.”

Rat in a Trap

Under legislation passed by the House of Lords on Friday, Johnson will be required to write to the EU to seek a fresh Brexit delay on Oct. 19 if he hasn’t secured a new agreement by then. Plaid Cymru Leader Liz Saville Roberts told Sky News that she doesn’t trust Johnson to obey that law, likening him to a “rat in a trap” and predicting he’ll become more aggressive.

Opposition parties must make sure the law “is put into effect and that we remain here as parliamentarians to make sure that the prime minister does his duty by the law,” she said.

That condition means opposition parties are unlikely to approve a general election until the letter has been written to the EU on Oct. 19, one of the people said. That means no election is likely until November, because at least 25 days must pass between an election being called and it being held.

‘Immediate Crisis’

“Given the behavior of the prime minister and his advisers, we need to be absolutely sure we’re not going to end up in a situation where the general election is going to be used as distraction while they bounce us out without a deal,” Labour’s Foreign Affairs spokeswoman, Emily Thornberry, told BBC radio. “We’re not talking about very long but we need to get this immediate crisis dealt with first.”

On Thursday, Johnson stood in a police academy in the north of England, giving a speech that was supposed to mark the start of a month-long snap election campaign. Instead, the embattled leader was trying to fight back after a series of humiliating defeats for his Brexit strategy this week, culminating in the resignation of his own brother in protest at his plans.

To make matters worse, the West Yorkshire Police complained on Friday about Johnson’s use of student officers for a political speech, which had a section on boosting police numbers but also covered other topics including Brexit and Johnson’s call for an election.

Police Spat

“We had no prior knowledge that the speech would be broadened to other issues until it was delivered,” West Yorkshire Chief Constable John Robins said in the statement.

On Friday, the opposition parties made clear they’re determined to prevent Johnson dictate the timing of an election.

The SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, told the BBC he’s “desperate” for a poll, but that the priority is to ensure there’s no “unintended consequence” of a no-deal Brexit as a result of Parliament not sitting during an election campaign.

“We will have that election when the time is right,” he said. “But I’ll make you this promise: you’re not going to have a long wait.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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