UK opposition parties suggest December 9 vote in Brexit gambit

LONDON (AP) – Two British opposition parties yesterday proposed an even earlier election date than Prime Minister Boris Johnson has offered, trying to force his government to delay a final decision on its European Union (EU) divorce deal.

The chess move by the Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party (SNP) reflects the volatile political landscape now in Britain.

The ruling Conservatives desperately want a new election to bolster their numbers in Parliament, but they face resistance from the main opposition Labour Party, which fears the country will be unwittingly tricked into crashing out of the EU without a deal.

The latest election proposal is an effort to force Johnson to delay debate in Parliament on his Brexit withdrawal Bill until after any election, depriving him of a possible victory on his trademark issue going into the campaign. It makes Johnson’s government choose between holding an election to improve its position in Parliament and its goal of securing Brexit before that election takes place.

“The challenge is absolutely on (the prime minister), because if he is serious about wanting an election and if he’s genuine about having an election before Christmas, then he can back this Bill,” Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson told the BBC yesterday.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to Middleton Primary School in Milton Keynes, England, last Friday. PHOTO: AP

Looming over the political maneuvering is what Johnson and Parliament are going to do about his Brexit deal and how long an extension EU leaders will give Britain to the current Brexit deadline, which is Thursday. The EU in principle has backed extending the Brexit deadline but officials were meeting again this week to figure out how long it should be.

The Liberal Democrats and the SNP plan to introduce legislation tomorrow that calls for an early national election on December 9, three days earlier than Johnson proposed and years earlier than Britain’s next scheduled vote in 2022.

Because United Kingdom law requires Parliament to be dissolved 25 working days before an election, the date of any poll will dictate how much time is available to debate Johnson’s Brexit withdrawal deal.

The Liberal Democrats expect a vote on their proposal Thursday, just days before Parliament would be suspended. That would effectively leave no time for lawmakers to consider Johnson’s Brexit deal.

In contrast, Johnson announced last week he will ask lawmakers today to authorise a December 12 election, then use the rest of the legislative term to push through his Brexit deal. Under this plan, Parliament would be dissolved on November 7, giving lawmakers about seven days to debate the withdrawal agreement that Johnson and EU leaders agreed upon.