Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. Brexit
28 October 2019

The Conservatives want an election on 12 December, the Lib Dems on 9 December. Here’s why

The difference in days could be significant.

By Stephen Bush

Boris Johnson has once again fallen short of the two-thirds threshold to bring about an early election under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, and will instead opt for the alternative route that Theresa May’s aides considered in 2017 – a one-line bill putting aside the Fixed Term Parliaments Act and setting the date of the next election for 12 December 2019.

He has also said that he will not attempt to bring back the Withdrawal Agreement Bill within this Parliament in a bid to secure Liberal Democrat and SNP support for the measure. But Jo Swinson has signalled that her party will oppose an election on 12 December. What’s so important about three days?

The reason why the 9 December date is important to the SNP and Liberal Democrats is they fear that Johnson will use the dying days of the 2017 parliament to ram through the deal with the support of nervous Labour backbenchers, denying them their last opportunity to stop Brexit.  Taking away those days means taking away that opportunity.

Downing Street will hope that pledging not to bring the withdrawal agreement bill back means that they can overcome that hurdle, but the problem Johnson has is that the opposition parties do not trust him, because he has attempted to prorogue Parliament, put a regulatory border in the Irish Sea having said he would not, and gone back on his promise to prevent a third runway being built at Heathrow. As far as both the SNP and the Liberal Democrats see it, promises from Boris Johnson tend not to be worth very much.

Under the Electoral Registration and Administration Act an election requires a minimum of 25 working days between dissolution and the election date itself. That means that to hit the 9 December date Parliament would have to dissolve on 1 November, leaving several bits of legislation – most importantly from a continuity of government perspective the legislation covering the continued failure to restore powersharing in Northern Ireland – at risk of not passing.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

To hit the 12 December date, however, Parliament would sit until Wednesday 6 November – creating a considerably longer period of time for MPs to pass the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, particularly if MPs voted to sit on weekends.

Content from our partners
How do we secure the hybrid office?
How materials innovation can help achieve net zero and level-up the UK
Fantastic mental well-being strategies and where to find them

So the difference is not one of political advantage or simply of a few days, but one with the potential to completely change the political context.