Johnson to take aim at ‘cowardly’ Corbyn as election battle looms
Boris Johnson will ramp up the rhetoric against “cowardly” Jeremy Corbyn as he effectively kicks off the campaign for a general election he has not yet been able to call.
The Prime Minister failed in his effort to call a snap general election on Wednesday night.
But by agreeing to give a backbench Bill to delay Brexit a smooth passage through the House of Lords he may have removed one of the obstacles to an early polling day as Labour has suggested it would not consider backing an election until the legislation is passed.
Downing Street said Mr Johnson would set out his case directly to the public on Thursday, claiming that Mr Corbyn wants to “surrender” to Brussels by “begging” for a delay beyond the October 31 Brexit deadline.
Labour responded, with shadow chancellor John McDonnell comparing the Prime Minister to a toddler throwing a tantrum and arguing that the opposition was behaving like the “adult in the room”.
Opposition parties are in talks about how to respond to Mr Johnson’s call for a snap election on October 15, with concern about whether the poll should be delayed until after an extension has been secured to prevent a no-deal Brexit on October 31.
The cross-party bid to require a Brexit extension cleared the Commons on Wednesday and, after a deal struck in the early hours of Thursday, the Tories have agreed not to attempt to talk it out in the Lords.
Peers sat until 1.30am when chief whip Lord Ashton of Hyde said all stages of the Bill will be completed by 5pm on Friday.
In a speech on Thursday, Mr Johnson will repeat his claim that the legislation is a “surrender Bill” and stress that he will not seek a delay to Brexit.
A Number 10 spokesman said: “It is clear the only action is to go back to the people and give them the opportunity to decide what they want: Boris to go to Brussels and get a deal, or leave without one on October 31, or Jeremy Corbyn arriving in Brussels with his surrender Bill begging for more delay, more dither and accepting whatever terms Brussels imposes over our nation.”
Setting the scene for a “people versus parliament” election strategy, the spokesman said: “Boris will argue that it is now time for the people to decide after Parliament has failed them so we can resolve this once and for all.
“For Jeremy Corbyn to continue to avoid an election would be a cowardly insult to democracy.”
Mr Johnson had called for a poll to be held on October 15 but Labour and other opposition MPs refused to back the bid – which needed a two-thirds majority in the Commons – while the risk of a no-deal remained.
The Government failed to secure the support of two-thirds of MPs, with the Commons voting 298 to 56 – 136 short of the number needed.
Mr Corbyn suggested that an election was contingent on the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No 6) Bill which will require the Prime Minister to delay Brexit rather than go ahead with a no-deal exit on October 31.
“Let the Bill pass and have Royal Assent and then we can have a general election,” Mr Corbyn said.
But senior Labour figures, including Sir Keir Starmer, have suggested that the election should not take place until the extension to Brexit has actually been secured, to ensure that Mr Johnson cannot bypass or repeal the legislation and press ahead with a no-deal withdrawal.
Shadow chancellor Mr McDonnell acknowledged there was a debate about whether it would be better to “go long”.
Labour is consulting legal experts, its own MPs and the leaders of other opposition parties about how to respond, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“The problem that we have got is that we cannot at the moment have any confidence in Boris Johnson abiding by any commitment or deal that we could construct.
“That’s the truth of it. So we are now consulting about whether it’s better to go long, therefore, rather than to go short.”
Meanwhile, the fallout continued from Mr Johnson’s decision to remove the Tory whip from 21 MPs, including former chancellors Philip Hammond and Kenneth Clarke, after they rebelled over the plan to block a no-deal Brexit.
Cabinet ministers reportedly raised concerns with Mr Johnson, and the One Nation group of Conservatives called for the 21 to be reinstated.
One Nation group leader and former cabinet minister Damian Green told the BBC: “I’m afraid it does look as though somebody has decided that the moderate, progressive wing of the Conservative Party is not wanted on voyage.
“That’s wrong in principle because there are many Conservative traditions, but it is terrible practical politics to narrow your appeal just before a general election.”
Chancellor Sajid Javid told the broadcaster he was “sad to see 21 colleagues, 21 Conservatives no longer carrying the Conservative whip, of course I am, these are my friends, these are good people”.
“But they also knew that, when the Prime Minister of the day says a vote is a matter of confidence, what would be the consequences of opposing that.”
In Brussels, frustration about Mr Johnson’s approach to seeking a Brexit deal was illustrated by a Financial Times report that chief negotiator Michel Barnier claimed there is “a state of paralysis” in talks with the UK.
Mr Johnson has repeatedly claimed that progress is being made and told MPs on Tuesday that “in the last few weeks, I believe the chances of a deal have risen”.