Election Speculation Mounts in Britain on Eve of ‘Last Chance’ Brexit Battle

LONDON (Reuters) -
Anti-Brexit placards in London. (Reuters/Dylan Martinez)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson summoned ministers to an impromptu meeting on Monday, stoking speculation he could call an election if parliament defeats him over a Brexit plan opponents fear could push the United Kingdom into a ruinous no-deal exit.

Johnson’s promise to take the country out of the European Union on Oct. 31 with or without a divorce deal has propelled the United Kingdom towards a constitutional crisis and a battle with the 27 other members of the bloc.

An alliance of opposition lawmakers are plotting with rebels in Johnson’s Conservative Party to take control of parliament and tie the government’s hands with legislation that would block a no-deal exit.

Just 24 hours until parliament returns on Tuesday from its summer break, Johnson’s enforcers warned rebels that if they voted against the government they would be kicked out of his Conservative Party.

With little clarity on whether the deadlocked British parliament might be able to come up with a resolution to the three-year Brexit crisis, talk turned to a possible election.

“We want a general election,” opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said.

He added: “We must come together to stop no deal – this week could be our last chance.”

However, former Labour leader Tony Blair warned Corbyn, a veteran socialist, to avoid what he cast as an election “elephant trap” Johnson had laid for Labour.

“Boris Johnson knows that if no-deal Brexit stands on its own as a proposition it might well fail, but if he mixes it up with the Corbyn question in a general election he could succeed despite a majority being against a no-deal Brexit because some may fear a Corbyn premiership more,” Blair said.

Johnson has called a cabinet meeting for later on Monday. The BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, said Johnson could ask lawmakers to vote on calling an election if they vote against his government on Brexit.

The Sun newspaper said Johnson was planning a snap election in five weeks’ time – before Brexit – if lawmakers defeat him.

Sterling dropped 1% to as low as $1.2046 – not far from its more than two-year low of $1.2015 touched in August.

Asked if the prime minister was planning an election, Johnson’s spokesman said: “He has been asked this on many, many occasions and his answer has always been that he doesn’t want there to be an election.”

Betting odds indicate an October election is now favorite, Ladbrokes said, with a 75% implied probability of an election before the end of 2019.

The United Kingdom has held a variety of extraordinary votes in recent years: In 2014, Scots rejected independence in a referendum; in 2015, then-Prime Minister David Cameron won a surprise majority on a pledge to hold an EU referendum but lost the referendum the following year.

After winning the top job in the chaos following the referendum, then-Prime Minister Theresa May bet on a 2017 snap election but lost her majority.

More than three years since the United Kingdom voted 52-48% to leave the European Union, it is still unclear on what terms, or indeed whether, Brexit will take place.