U.K. moves closer to December election for 1st time since 1923
With Brexit delayed until Jan. 31, Britain's Labour Party would favour an early election
LONDON – Britain appeared on course Tuesday for an early general election that could break the country’s political deadlock over Brexit, after the main opposition Labour Party said it would agree to the government’s request to send voters to the polls in December.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is pushing for a Dec 12 election in hopes of breaking the Parliamentary stalemate that blocked his plan to take Britain out of the European Union this month. The EU has granted Britain a three-month Brexit extension until Jan. 31.
With Brexit now delayed, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said his opposition party would vote in favour of an early election because the prospect of crashing out of the EU without a deal had been taken off the table.
That means the U.K. is likely headed for its first December election since 1923.
“For the next three months, our condition of taking no-deal off the table has now been met,” Corbyn said. “We will now launch the most ambitious and radical campaign for real change our country has ever seen.”
“We’re going out there to win!” Corbyn told cheering supporters.
The House of Commons is voting later Tuesday on the government’s bill calling for a Dec. 12 election. Corbyn’s support means it is very likely to pass, although opposition politicians could press the government to alter the date by a day or two.
To win support from opposition parties, Johnson has shelved his contentious EU Brexit deal until after the election.
The Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party have proposed an earlier election date of Dec. 9 to reduce the possibility that Johnson could try to pass his EU divorce bill – which would allow Britain to leave the bloc and hand Johnson a major political achievement – before the campaign begins.
“It cannot be the 12th,” said Liberal Democrat lawmaker Chuka Ummuna, who suggested his party could accept a compromise date of Dec. 10 or 11.
“We will see what else they come forward with,” he said. “We have got to break the gridlock.”
Opinion polls currently give Johnson’s Conservatives a lead over Labour, but there’s a strong chance that an election could produce a Parliament as divided over Brexit as the current one. As it stands, Britain is not scheduled to hold a general election until 2022.
Voters are weary after more than three years of Brexit drama, and all the political parties are worried about a backlash from grumpy electors asked to go to the polls at the darkest, coldest time of the year.
If Johnson does get an election approved on Tuesday, it will be on his fourth attempt. On Monday, Johnson proposed a Dec. 12 election under a different procedure that required a two-thirds majority in the House of Commons but lawmakers voted it down – Johnson’s third such defeat.
Johnson had accused opponents of betraying voters’ decision to leave the EU and said that without an early election, the British government would be like the cartoon character Charlie Brown, “endlessly running up to kick the ball only to have Parliament whisk it away.”
“We cannot continue with this endless delay,” he said.
Johnson took office in July vowing to “get Brexit done” after his predecessor, Theresa May, resigned in defeat. Parliament had rejected her divorce deal three times, and the EU had delayed Britain’s scheduled March 29 departure, first to April, and then to the end of October.
The EU on Monday agreed to extend the Brexit deadline for a third time, this time until Jan. 31.
Johnson, who said just weeks ago that he would “rather be dead in a ditch” than postpone the U.K.’s leaving date past Oct. 31, was forced to seek the extension on Parliament’s orders to avoid a no-deal Brexit, which would damage the economies of both Britain and the EU.