Snap election chances rise as plan to block no deal gets underway

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MPs return to parliament today – and the LabourList daily email is back. It’s shaping up to be a dramatic week following summer recess, which was first dominated by new Tory policy announcements that appeared to splash the cash and then saw Jeremy Corbyn agree with the ‘Rebel Alliance’ to prioritise blocking no deal in parliament (over a vote of no confidence). These events will inform the next few action-packed days, which may well usher in a snap election.

Remember when Theresa May invited Labour to cross-party Brexit talks and everyone said “it’s a trap!”? Well, much the same is happening now, but instead of setting up negotiations with the opposition, this Tory Prime Minister is threatening the opposition with… a general election. The very thing that Corbyn has been calling for in probably every speech since 2017 – unfortunately for many Labour MPs, who aren’t pleased with the idea at all.

Hilary Benn has revealed the bill drafted by the group of backbench MPs working to stop no deal on October 31st. (This pack includes Tory Remainers, such as the very recent Chancellor Philip Hammond, who have been told by Boris Johnson that they will lose the whip and be deselected as candidates at the next election if they vote for this legislation. It has been incredible to watch how little outrage this move – showing no regard for internal party democracy – has provoked, compared to Labour slightly changing its trigger ballot rules.)

The Benn Bill aims to ensure that the UK doesn’t leave without a deal on October 31st by extending Article 50 to January 31st. The Prime Minister would be compelled to request this delay unless parliament had agreed to no deal or approved a deal by October 19th. The most controversial part of the legislation, which Brexiteers are certain to highlight repeatedly, is that if the EU offers a different date the PM must accept it (unless rejected by the Commons). Of course, Johnson says he will not request an extension. It has therefore been briefed that, if the government is defeated, the PM will try to call an election taking place on October 14th.

It is understood that this call for an election will be done under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, which means two-thirds of MPs must approve it. The big question being asked today is whether Labour will vote for a snap poll. Many Labour MPs agree with Tony Blair, who says this is an “elephant trap” that Corbyn’s party would do well to avoid. They want Brexit sorted out first, not to “dance to Johnson’s tune”, as Peter Kyle has tweeted. They think Labour is polling badly and will lose a pre-Brexit election, which would give Johnson a mandate for no deal, and some are worried that Johnson could change the date for after October 31st. In sum, they are ready to defy the whip to vote against an early election.

Where is the leadership on this point? Jeremy Corbyn is well up for the fight, of course. There have been mixed messages from the frontbench, but the line is that Labour wants an early election and will vote for one – though the anti-no deal legislation must be “locked down” first. As Shami Chakrabarti said this morning: “It’s about sequencing.” (Exactly how they can guarantee that the PM will not change the date of the election later is not certain at all, but it seems highly unlikely that Labour would whip against an election if the Benn Bill has been approved.)

All eyes on the Commons later today, then. At around 6.30pm, a member of the ‘Rebel Alliance’ – perhaps a Tory MP – will submit their application for an emergency debate that will defy convention and aim to take control of the order paper. Speaker Bercow, furious about Johnson’s equally unconventional extended suspension of parliament, will then make a crucial ruling. If granted, the ‘SO24’ debate will take place tonight – and it’s probably the last chance MPs have to prevent no deal next month. Keep following LabourList for all the necessary updates and the result at around 10pm.

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