The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, urged rebel Tory MPs not to “chop the legs” from under his government by siding with the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn when the Commons reconvenes after the summer break on Tuesday.
Boris made his statement on Monday from a lectern outside 10 Downing Street, following an emergency cabinet meeting and after he had spoken to assembled Tory MPs in the garden of his official residence.
“I don’t want an election, you don’t want an election,” he said, implying he would seek an early “people vs parliament” general election, possibly on October 10, if the government was defeated in the Commons this week.
The Labour MP, Hilary Ben, has already tabled a motion calling for an extension to the date by which the UK leaves the EU from October 31, 2019, to January 21, 2020 — a delay of three months.
There are said to be between 20 and 30 Tory MPs, including former senior cabinet ministers, among them the former chancellor Philip Hammond, who have indicated they will vote with the Opposition in order to stop Boris leaving the EU without a deal. They say this would be disastrous for the British economy.
Since Boris has an overall majority of only one in the Commons, there is every chance he will suffer a defeat.
However, because of the fixed term parliament act, he will need a two-thirds majority in the Commons before he can call a general election. Corbyn, who has been calling for months for such an election, might now find it difficult not to vote for one.
The outcome of such an election could see Boris ousted from power though his calculation will be the country will not want an extreme Left wing politician, such as Corbyn, as Prime Minister.
Over the weekend, rebel Tory MPs were warned that if they voted with Corbyn, they would be expelled from the party and not allowed to stand as Conservative candidates at the next election.
As Boris made his statement, protesters gathered outside Downing Street, shouting, “Stop the coup,” a reference to his decision to prorogue parliament for five weeks.
Boris made one thing clear: “I want everybody to know there are no circumstances in which I will ask Brussels to delay.
“We are leaving on October 31, no ifs or buts.”
He began by saying: “Five weeks ago I said this government would not hang around. We wouldn’t wait until Brexit day to deliver on the priorities of the British people. I am proud to say on Wednesday Chancellor Sajid Javid will set out the biggest spending round in a decade.”
He claimed that the chances of the EU conceding a deal of the kind he wanted were rising because the EU can “see we want a deal”.
He went on: “One thing holding us back in Brussels with these talks is that MPs may find some way to vote with Jeremy Corbyn for yet another pointless delay.
“I hope that they won’t.
“But if they do they would chop the legs from under the UK position.
“I say, to show our friends in Brussels that we are united in our purpose, MPs should vote with the government against Corbyn’s pointless delay.”
He said he believed he could get a deal from the EU “that Parliament will be able to scrutinise”. He added: “In the meantime let’s let our negotiators get on with their work without that Sword of Damocles. And without an election. Let’s come together and get it done — and let’s get Brexit done by 31 October.”
The BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, provided her instant assessment: “So PM just repeated his claim that he doesn’t want an election but will not accept a delay whatever happens – refusing to spell it out but in other words, he’ll call a rapid election if he has to – in about six weeks time.”
Her colleague, Vicky Young, the BBC’s chief political correspondent, said Boris was making a “last-minute plea to his own MPs”.
He was asking them: “Do you want to go into the voting lobbies with Jeremy Corbyn and undermine the UK’s negotiating position?”