EU leaders continue to ponder a fresh Brexit delay
EU leaders are continuing to consider whether to grant a further extension to Brexit against the objections of Boris Johnson.
The Prime Minister has warned he will push for a snap general election if he is forced to accept a lengthy delay to Britain’s departure, potentially into the new year.
However there are signs of divisions among ministers and senior No 10 advisers over whether to press for a December poll.
Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s chief adviser, is reportedly leading calls to abandon attempts to get the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal through Parliament and go for an election.
But Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith is said to be among ministers arguing it is still possible to pass a bill ratifying the agreement, despite Tuesday’s defeat for Mr Johnson’s attempt to fast-track it through the Commons.
There are fears among Conservatives that if there is an election before the UK has left the EU, it will play into the hands of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.
Even if Mr Johnson does decide to press for an early election there is no guarantee that he will succeed.
Under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act he would need a “super majority” of two-thirds of all MPs to call an election which would require Labour support.
Jeremy Corbyn has said Labour is ready to go to the country once it is sure Mr Johnson cannot “crash out” in a no-deal Brexit in the middle of a campaign.
However there is widespread opposition among the party’s MPs at a time when they are trailing in the polls.
While there are other potential routes to an election, such as Tories voting for a no-confidence motion in their own Government which would only require a simple majority of one, they are also fraught with difficulties.
Any decision is likely to wait until Friday when EU leaders are expected to make their decision on whether, and for how long, there should be another Brexit delay.
It is widely thought they will agree a so-called “flextension” to the end of January, with the option for the UK to leave before then if there is agreement in Parliament on a deal before then.
Such a move would be in line with the request which Mr Johnson was forced to submit under the terms of the Benn Act after he failed to gain approval for his deal at Saturday’s special sitting of Parliament.
That approach enjoys the support of key figures such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Irish premier Leo Varadkar.
However French President Emmanuel Macron is reported to be pressing for a much shorter delay to the middle of November to keep the pressure on MPs at Westminster.
If leaders cannot come to an agreement it could mean there will have to be an EU emergency summit, probably on Monday, just three days before the UK is currently due to leave.
A shorter extension would be a boost to Mr Johnson who has told outgoing European Council president Donald Tusk that he does not want any further delay.