MPs will vote later on whether to back Boris Johnson’s call for a general election on 12 December as the EU gathers to consider whether to grant a Brexit extension.
The prime minister has told MPs he will give them more time to scrutinise and debate the Brexit deal he agreed with the EU on 21 October, if they grant him a pre-Christmas general election.
Mr Johnson is putting a motion down under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act (FTPA), a coalition government reform that means the government requires a two-thirds majority to secure a snap general election outside the five-year election cycle.
The problem for Mr Johnson is he does not have a majority, never mind two-thirds control of the House of Commons.
It means he will require opposition support today and, principally, Labour backing.
But Labour have so far resisted Mr Johnson’s demand for an early general election, with party leader Jeremy Corbyn calling for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit to be taken “completely off the table” before the UK heads to the polls.
Meanwhile, the SNP and Liberal Democrats, who both back Remain, have set out their plan for an election on 9 December, without time for MPs to first pass Mr Johnson’s Brexit deal.
The two parties have proposed a bill that would, as long as the EU extends the Article 50 deadline until 31 January, write the polling date of 9 December into law.
It would need only a simple majority to pass rather than the two-thirds majority required for Mr Johnson’s FTPA motion – a total of 320 MPs instead of 435.
Downing Street suggested Mr Johnson could adopt “ideas similar” to the SNP/Lib Dem plan – in the event MPs defeat his own motion for an early general election – despite culture secretary Nicky Morgan branding it a “stunt”.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson did not rubbish the proposal, telling Sky News’ Kay Burley @ Breakfast “we’ve made it clear there’s an ability to put different options” but that doing it via legislation is “always complex”.
But Labour did not warm to either proposal, with Mr Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonnell also criticising the SNP/Lib Dem move.
Mr Corbyn also suggested the EU granting a Brexit delay to 31 January, as reluctantly requested by Mr Johnson last week, would not meet his conditions for Labour to back an early general election.
He said: “The reality is we’ve got to have no-deal completely off the table and that whole threat removed before anything else – because of the danger to our economy, to jobs, to trade, to medicine supplies.”
The Labour leader added: “It’s still there in his [the PM’s] mind, it’s still there in the bill, and it’s still there as a threat.
“It’s got to be completely removed before we’ll support an election.
“We want an election as soon as that is removed. And it’s in his hands to do so.”
Mr Corbyn called for parliament to have the ability to “reject no-deal emphatically” before Labour would back an election.
It follows fears from some MPs that the PM’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill doesn’t prevent the UK leaving the Brexit transition period in December 2020 without a future EU trade deal.
Mr McDonnell accused the Lib Dems and SNP of abandoning their support for a second EU referendum, which he described as the “only way” to “resolve” Brexit.
He said the “Lib Dem and Tory pact of 2010 is being re-established” and accused Jo Swinson’s party of being prepared to “stop at nothing to get their ministerial cars back”.
Senior Labour figures are currently split on whether to prioritise a referendum or an election, with deputy leader Tom Watson having previously argued a referendum must come before an election.
The shadow cabinet is holding a special meeting at midday to decide on how their MPs should be whipped on the election vote tonight.
Former Labour MP Chuka Umunna, who is now a Lib Dem, told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday show that his party had offered a general election because it was “highly unlikely” a majority of MPs will support a second EU referendum in the current make-up of the Commons.
Tom Brake, the party’s Brexit spokesperson, told Kay Burley @ Breakfast on Monday the government’s reaction proved they had “woken up to the fact that this may be the only option the prime minister has to secure a general election”.
EU ambassadors are meeting in Brussels this morning to consider a text on the UK’s request for a Brexit extension.
According to a draft document seen by Reuters, a delay was to be granted “with the view to allowing for the finalisation of the ratification” of the divorce agreement sealed with Mr Johnson last week.
The draft text left the Brexit date blank, but said the split could take place earlier if ratification was completed – an idea dubbed a flexible extension or “flextension”.
However, the EU appeared to be waiting for clarification from Westminster.
France’s EU minister Amelie de Montchalin told French TV on Sunday: “We cannot give extra time based on political fiction.
“We need to have certainty in order to decide [on an extension], certainty about ratification, about elections or about a second referendum.”