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28 October 2019

A Brexit extension leaves MPs with a choice: take Boris Johnson’s deal or risk an election?

A general election is now Remainers’ only hope at stopping Brexit.

By Stephen Bush

I hope that Nuneaton is nice in December, because the chances that we’ll have an election that month are on the rise. The Guardian reports that Donald Tusk has persuaded Emmanuel Macron that his interests are better served by granting an extension to the Brexit process until 31 January, which leaves MPs with a genuine choice between ratifying Boris Johnson’s withdrawal agreement and a fresh election.

And a Liberal Democrat wheeze to get an election before 12 December – removing the possibility that this parliament might put the withdrawal agreement into law before the next election – has attracted the support of the SNP, and, more importantly, Downing Street sources have told the press that they will consider it as a Plan B should Plan A (to secure an election with a two-thirds majority today in the House of Commons) fail.

The details of that Plan B? A one-page bill that would put aside the terms of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act for one contest only, setting the next election for 9 December 2019.

The difficult truth that anyone who wants to stop Brexit has to reckon with is that there is a small majority in this parliament to ratify Johnson’s exit terms. His preferred future relationship has a trickier path to ratification, but he doesn’t need to take the two together. He could separate them, and the longer this parliament carries on for, the higher the chances that either he, or the Labour MPs who want the UK to have left the EU before an election that takes place, will decide that they need to concede on the future relationship in order to go to the country with Brexit confirmed.

Yes, the prospects of returning a more pro-Remain parliament than this one look pretty dicey. Unless Jeremy Corbyn can turn around his dire poll ratings, or Jo Swinson can pull off the realignment that has eluded every one of her predecessors as Liberal Democrat leaders, the next election will return a parliament that is every bit as inclined to pass Johnson’s deal as this, quite possibly a parliament that is even more committed to passing Johnson’s deal. But that risk has to be weighed against the absolute certainty that without change this parliament will pass Brexit – which means that having an election before that happens, however daunting a prospect that might be, is the best hope that Remainers have to stay in the EU.

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