For the past few days, leaders in Europe and Westminster have been locked in a standoff — the EU wanting to hear the UK’s next steps before granting an extension, and British politicians awaiting a verdict from Brussels before deciding on an early election.
But now one part of the equation has fallen into place — European leaders have granted a Brexit delay until the end of January.
In theory, that should make an election more likely; the UK now has time to have a campaign period and hold a vote, with several weeks to spare before the new Brexit deadline.
But as Prime Minister Boris Johnson has learned, getting an election is easier said than done. He needs two-thirds of MPs to back the plan, which requires support from the opposition Labour Party.
And Labour have been steadfast in opposing a vote until a no-deal Brexit is “off the table.” They’ve been less clear about what exactly “off the table” means — so much will depend on whether the party deems this extension satisfactory for them to back a poll.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn could still argue that the threat remains of a no-deal in January 2020, as well as at the end of the transition period in Johnson’s Brexit deal.
Johnson’s Plan B: If Labour do continue to block an election, they’ll be isolated. The SNP and the Liberal Democrats have now warmed to the idea of a contest, after previously supporting Corbyn in stonewalling the Prime Minister.
And those two opposition parties have handed Johnson an unlikely lifeline — they’ve indicated that they will support a bill overruling the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. This would call for an election but would only need a simple majority of MPs to pass.
In return, they would want the January 31 extension secured, meaning Johnson would have to put his efforts to pass his Brexit deal on hold for now.
This plan could still be an appealing path for the Prime Minister, should he lose the vote on his election request later today.