The UK could be heading for an early election. Here’s what you need to know
In the latest twist in the UK’s ongoing Brexit saga, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson will attempt to trigger a snap election if he loses a vote against a no-deal Brexit vote in Parliament on Wednesday evening.
Confused about how this latest chapter has unfolded? Here’s what you need to know.
Is the UK heading for an early general election?
It certainly looks like Johnson is trying to secure one. He said in a speech to the country on Monday: “I don’t want an election and you don’t want an election,” but he also made it clear that he would prefer an election over what he called another “pointless” Brexit delay.
Then, on Tuesday, he filed a motion for an early election — which would need approval from two thirds of Parliament.
And in a slip of the tongue on Wednesday, he said to the House of Commons he “want(s) to have an election,” before correcting himself to say he was “willing” to have one.
Why is everyone talking about early elections if Johnson says he doesn’t want one?
As much as Johnson claims he doesn’t want a vote, having one could produce big benefits for him.
It would be a gamble to go back to the country after three national votes in the last four years (elections in 2015 and 2017, referendum in 2016) but it could break the deadlock that has kept Parliament from making any obvious progress on Brexit for the past three years.
The problem that Theresa May had is that a majority of MPs oppose a no-deal Brexit, but a majority also opposes the deal that Brussels agreed with May.
Johnson replaced May as prime minister, but he still has the same Parliamentary arithmetic to deal with.
Now, some leading members of his own Conservative Party — including a number of people who held top cabinet jobs under May — say they will back a proposed law ordering Johnson to ask the EU for another Brexit delay.
Johnson and his allies are warning they will withdraw the Conservative whip from any Tory MPs who vote for that — effectively kicking them out of the party.
They could easily leave Johnson with a minority government.
He might calculate that his best shot at getting a like-minded majority behind him in Parliament — one that is not only Conservative, but would allow the UK to leave the EU without a deal — is a new election.
In Johnson’s best-case scenario, he might end up with enough Brexiteer Conservative MPs behind him that he does not need to rely on the DUP of Northern Ireland to prop up his government. That could give him additional leeway to negotiate about the so-called backstop.
Can Johnson just go ahead and call one whenever he wants?
No. It used to be the case that a British prime minister could call a general election unilaterally, but under the Fixed Term Parliament Act (2011), it takes a vote of Parliament to call a snap election. At least two thirds of MPs have to vote in favor for an early election to be called.
Would Parliament vote for early elections if Johnson wants them?
That’s not clear.
A leading member of the opposition Labour Party, Tony Lloyd, said hours after Johnson’s speech Monday that Labour would not vote for a snap election if that would help Johnson deliver a no-deal Brexit. That’s since been backed by a number of Labour frontbenchers, and the party’s leader Jeremy Corbyn has indicated he would only sanction an early election if no deal were taken off the table first.
Some leading Conservative rebels also said they might not back Johnson if he calls for one, making it unlikely the prime minister can reach the two thirds threshold.
If Parliament does vote for a snap election, how quickly would it happen?
About a month. Parliament has to be dissolved 25 working days before election day. British media reports say Johnson is aiming for an election on Monday, October 14, or the following day, which means Parliament would have to be dissolved early in the week of September 9.
Aren’t British elections always on a Thursday?
For decades, they have been — but that is tradition, not law. The Fixed Term Parliaments Act says nothing about elections having to be on an particular day of the week. The logic of breaking tradition and holding an election on October 14 or 15 is that the results would be clear by October 17, when the European Council, with whom the UK has been negotiating Brexit, begins its next meeting.
If Johnson wins an election on a no-deal Brexit platform, he can say he goes to that Council meeting with a mandate from the British people to leave, deal or no deal.
What if Johnson loses the election?
All bets are off.