Fourth time lucky? Boris Johnson’s third bid to secure an early election fell short of the two-thirds requirement to trigger one, but will today launch a fourth attempt to go to the country early, by putting forward a short bill to put aside the Fixed-term Parliaments Act and set the date of the next election for 12 December 2019 (though the act will continue to apply as before, meaning that the next election after that will be due on the first Thursday in May 2024).
The SNP has signalled that it will back the date, but there is unease among the Liberal Democrats about the move from their preferred date of 9 December. Johnson wants to keep his preferred 12 December date, with the argument being that the additional legislative time is needed in order to pass the necessary law to account for the continued absence of power-sharing in Northern Ireland. Because the 2013 Electoral Registration and Administration Act states that an election must take place a minimum of 25 working days after parliament’s dissolution, the Liberal Democrats’ preferred date would mean dissolution this Friday.
What’s the fuss about a few days? The 12 December date would mean that parliament could dissolve as late as 6 November, potentially meaning that a panicked parliament might yet find the time to put the Withdrawal Agreement Bill into law before the election. That looks unlikely to me – it’s one thing for 19 Labour MPs to vote for Johnson’s exit terms, but quite another for them to do so at such speed and on the eve of an election.
The trouble for the SNP and Liberal Democrats is that Johnson has them over a barrel on this one – either hold an election in December and risk that this parliament does manage to ram the Withdrawal Agreement Bill through or persist with this parliament, which will eventually put the Bill into law.
And it’s that reality which means that a December election is now more likely than not.