• Saturday, April 13, 2024
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BusinessDay

Boris Johnson fuels election talk by ordering emergency cabinet meeting

Boris Johnson has ordered an emergency cabinet meeting for Monday afternoon, fuelling expectations that he could call a general election if his Brexit strategy is defeated in the House of Commons this week.

David Gauke, one of the leading Tory MPS opposed to a no-deal Brexit, said Mr Johnson was taking a “confrontational” approach with Conservative rebels, with the aim of purging them from the party before calling an election.

Allies of the prime minister said they would view a parliamentary defeat for the government this week as “a vote of no confidence” in his Brexit negotiating strategy, giving him an excuse to go to the polls.

A senior Downing Street official confirmed that the cabinet would meet on Monday to “discuss the government’s response to MPS seeking to take control of the legislative agenda away from the government and handing it to the opposition and [Jeremy] Corbyn without the consent of the people”.

The official added that any potential Commons votes on Tuesday would be “an expression of confidence in government’s negotiating position to secure a deal and will be treated as such”.

Whitehall sources said that rather than wait for MPS to defeat the government on legislation to ban a no-deal exit, Mr Johnson could act first and table a motion for debate on Thursday to trigger an election.

Under the terms of the fixed term

parliament act, Mr Johnson would need two-thirds of MPS to support an election. Labour would almost certainly vote for an election, provided Mr Johnson promised to hold it before Brexit day on October 31.

“They’re almost goading people into voting against the government,” Mr Gauke said, as about 15 Conservative MPS considered voting with Labour and other opposition parties to try to halt a no-deal exit.

Mr Johnson has warned the rebels they will lose the party whip and be banned from standing as Conservative candidates.

“I think their strategy, to be honest, is to lose this week and seek a general election having removed those of us who are not against Brexit or leaving the EU but believe we should do so with a deal,” Mr Gauke told the BBC Today programme.

If Mr Johnson triggered an election on Thursday it would allow an election on October 17 — the date of an EU council meeting in Brussels — following the standard 25 days normally required for a campaign.

Downing Street declined to comment on speculation of an early election but stuck to the standard line: “What the prime minister wants is for the UK to get out of the EU on October 31 and that’s what he’s working on.”

The pound was down 0.7 per cent against the dollar at $1.208 by midday on Monday as the battle within the Conservative party over the shape of the UK’S exit from the EU intensified.

On Sunday, Mr Johnson refused a request from Tory rebels for a meeting at Westminster on Monday and Mr Gauke confirmed that party whips or other senior figures were doing nothing to try to win over the rebels.

Although Downing Street believes that the threat of deselection will stop some of the rebels, Mr Gauke said the prime minister’s tactics — including the suspension of parliament for five weeks — was hardening opinion.

“I would say there is a 95 per cent chance that if parliament does not act this week, we will leave without a deal on October 31,” he said.