UK spins towards Christmas election in bid to break Brexit deadlock

Updated October 30, 2019

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A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament's Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) shows Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow announcing the result of a vote on the Early Parliamentary General Election Bill, in the House of Commons in London on October 29, 2019, which means that there will be a general election on December 12, 2019. — AFP
A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament's Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) shows Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow announcing the result of a vote on the Early Parliamentary General Election Bill, in the House of Commons in London on October 29, 2019, which means that there will be a general election on December 12, 2019. — AFP

LONDON: Britain was heading towards its first December election in almost a century after Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s bet on breaking the Brexit deadlock with an early ballot gained support from opposition parties on Tuesday.

As the European Union agreed a third delay to the divorce that was originally supposed to take place on March 29, the United Kingdom, its parliament and its electorate remain divided on how or indeed whether to go ahead with Brexit.

Johnson, who had promised to deliver Brexit on Oct 31 "do or die", has repeatedly demanded an election to end what he casts as a nightmare paralysis that is sapping public trust in politicians by frustrating any Brexit outcome at all.

After parliament refused Johnson his third demand for an election on Monday, he will try to force a bill through parliament on Tuesday that calls for a Dec 12 election. It needs a simple majority in parliament.

In a move that aligns the stars for an election after months of Brexit discord, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, said he would back an election now the threat of Britain exiting the EU without a deal had been removed.

“Whatever date the House decides the election will be, I’m ready for it, we’re ready for it,” Corbyn told parliament, adding that he supported allowing EU citizens with settled status and 16-17 year olds to vote.

That is a step too far for the British government which said it would pull the election bill if opposition parties tried to change the electoral franchise before an election.

Johnson said the House of Commons was obstructing Brexit and thus damaging the economy by preventing investment decisions, and corroding faith in democracy.

“There is only one way to get Brexit done in the face of this unrelenting parliamentary obstructionism — this endless wilful fingers-crossed ‘not me Guv’ refusal to deliver on the mandate of the people — and that is, Mr Speaker, to refresh this parliament and give the people a choice,” Johnson said.

The first Christmas election in Britain since 1923 would be highly unpredictable: Brexit has variously fatigued and enraged swathes of voters while eroding traditional loyalties to the two major parties, Conservative and Labour.

Some politicians feel an election so close to Christmas could irritate voters, while campaigning and getting the vote out could be hampered by cold winter weather and darkness setting in by mid-afternoon.

Published in Dawn, October 30th, 2019