On Wednesday night, Sajid Javid insisted that the government would push ahead with the Budget on 6 November – regardless of any delay to Brexit. The Chancellor has since changed his tune. In a letter to Treasury Select Committee chairman Mel Stride this afternoon, Javid confirms that it will not be taking place after all.
Says the Chancellor: “Parliament has voted for a delay to the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, so the government is now calling for a general election. I can therefore confirm that I have decided not to bring forward the Budget on 6 November.”
If Boris Johnson really does intend to make good on last night’s threat to take the government on strike and offer only minimal engagement with the Commons until it accedes to his demands for an election, then this is its opening salvo. But, with Johnson having since promised to plough on with his domestic legislative agenda, the messaging looks rather confused.
The government’s self-inflicted predicament means it is at the mercy of the opposition and cannot know for sure how long it will remain in office. That Johnson and his cabinet are struggling to arrive at a settled line on how they intend to use their stay of execution will convince some on the opposition benches, like John McDonnell, that their instinctive desire to keep the prime minister in post as a lame duck is well-placed. So while ministers might believe that legislative paralysis will convince the opposition to go for an election, they cannot be sure that they will acquiesce.
And nor can ministers be sure of what Johnson wants. Not for the first time in his short tenure, Javid has been publicly undermined by No 10. If the Prime Minister’s own mixed messaging over the last 24 hours is anything to go by, the confusion within cabinet as to what the government is actually doing will reign until Labour plays ball. That could well be bad news for Conservative Party in need of a clear message as to why it wants a December election upon the public.