Britain mulls snap election by Christmas, Brexit set for another delay

Britain could have a general election by the end of the year after Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit bill was passed, but ultimately held up Tuesday.

Johnson had threatened earlier Tuesday to pull the bill and call for a snap election by Christmas if Parliament did not support U.K.’s negotiated EU divorce bill.

Hours later, the House of Commons in principle backed Johnson’s Brexit plan, voting 329-299 to pass the Withdrawal Agreement. But minutes later defeated Johnson’s request to push through the legislation in a three-day timetable, saying it didn’t provide enough time for scrutiny.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking in the House of Commons, London during the debate for the European Union Withdrawal Agreement Bill: Second Reading. Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019. 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking in the House of Commons, London during the debate for the European Union Withdrawal Agreement Bill: Second Reading. Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019.  (House of Commons via AP)

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In Parliament on Wednesday, one lawmaker called on Johnson to push for a general election, with cheers heard inside the chamber.

Johnson replied with a sarcastic quip: “What an exciting development.”

The government is now waiting for the EU's response to its request for a three-month extension to the Brexit deadline.

European Council President Donald Tusk said in a tweet that because of Tuesday's votes in London he would recommend that the other 27 EU nations grant Britain a delay to its departure to avoid a chaotic no-deal exit in just eight days.

Irish premier Leo Varadkar affirmed his support for a delay in a call with Tusk, noting that “it would be possible for the U.K. to leave before Jan. 31, 2020 if the Withdrawal Agreement has been ratified in advance of that date.”

A source for the prime minister’s office told Sky News that if the EU agrees to the delay, “the only way the country can move on is with an election.”

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The opposition Labour Party also now appears willing to go to the polls.

Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who met with the prime minister on Wednesday, has said repeatedly that once an extension was in place, he would support a general election. A party spokesperson told The Guardian that remained the party’s position.

“Extension, then election,” the spokesperson said.

British Justice Secretary Robert Buckland appeared to agree with the sentiment, telling the BBC that Parliament’s failure to break the logjam means “we are left with the options of a general election … That seems to me to be the only way to break this impasse.”

However, some lawmakers urged Johnson to push on with the passage of the Brexit bill, saying it could pass if lawmakers had time to study it properly.

"I would have thought it can be done in a matter of weeks," said Labour lawmaker Richard Burgon.

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Britain's next scheduled election is in 2022. If Johnson wants an early election, he needs to win a vote in Parliament to call for an election or lose a no-confidence vote, which so far opposition parties have refused to call.

Johnson had grudgingly asked the EU to delay Brexit to comply with a law passed by Parliament ordering the government to postpone Britain's departure rather than risk the economic damage that could come from a no-deal exit.

All 27 other EU leaders must agree to an extension, which would be the third time Britain's departure date has been postponed.

Johnson has not abandoned his Brexit deal, which sets out the terms of Britain's departure from the EU after almost five decades of membership. It will form the centerpiece of his Conservative Party's campaign if there is an early election.

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Johnson hopes an election will give his Conservatives a majority in Parliament so he can push through his plans.

"One way or another, we will leave the EU with this deal to which this House has just given its assent," Johnson told lawmakers after Tuesday's votes.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.