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UK PM Johnson's push for Dec 12 snap poll clears first Parliament hurdle


Press Trust of India London
Embattled British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's fourth bid to force an early general election on December 12 cleared its first Parliament hurdle on Tuesday as MPs backed it without the need for a vote, a day after a similar attempt was rejected by the leaders following the European Union's further extension to the Brexit deadline until January 31.
The House of Commons debate on the bill will carry on as MPs consider amendments, including an Opposition Labour Party proposal to change the date to December 9 to ensure Johnson cannot sneak through his Brexit Bill before Parliament is dissolved and also to ensure a strong turnout for the snap poll.
The UK PM can only hold an early election with the support of MPs, who have previously blocked it three times.
Efforts by Opposition MPs to lower the voting age to 16 and also allow EU nationals to take part have failed as the changes were not selected for debate by the Deputy Speaker.
But with MPs overall backing a December poll, a pre-Christmas election now looks certain.
One proposed change to the early election motion that will be considered is a call by Labour - backed by the other Opposition parties - to hold the poll three days earlier on December 9.
This, they argue, would ensure that university students are more likely to be able to take part because it would still be in term time.
The prospect of an election became more and more likely after the European Union (EU) had agreed on a three-month extension to the October 31 Brexit deadline.
This meant Johnson's "do or die" pledge to leave the economic bloc by Halloween was effectively dead and he was determined to push through an early poll to try and change his current minority figures in Parliament.
The Labour Party had so far refused to back an early poll until the threat of a no-deal crashout by October end had been taken off the table, a condition which was met with the new Brexit deadline now being January 31, 2020.
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn told his shadow Cabinet: "We have now heard from the EU that the extension of Article 50 to January 31 has been confirmed, so for the next three months, our condition of taking no-deal off the table has now been met. We will now launch the most ambitious and radical campaign for real change our country has ever seen".
After three failed attempts previously, Johnson's chances were high this time as he required only a simple majority of MPs to back him, as opposed to the two-thirds majority under the UK Fixed Term Parliaments Act.
Besides this attempt at circumventing the law, he also offered the Opposition parties a commitment to abandon his Brexit Bill from being brought back for a vote, opening up the prospect of the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party (SNP) MPs backing the General Election vote.
The Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is vehemently opposed to the so-called divorce bill with the EU due to the post-Brexit invisible border planned in the Irish Sea.
After he lost the vote on Monday evening, Johnson told the House of Commons: "We will not allow this paralysis to continue, and one way or another we must proceed straight to an election".
Liberal Democrats leader Jo Swinson's party is pushing for an earlier date because it would not leave the government enough time to get any legislation through because the UK Parliament must be dissolved 25 days ahead of any election.
For a December 9 election, Parliament would need to pass its legislation by Thursday this week, but for a December 12 election it could wait until the middle of next week, leaving open a window for the controversial Brexit Bill to be brought back on the table.
Ian Blackford, the SNP leader in the Commons, said his party would need a "cast-iron guarantee" that the Prime Minister would not try to bring back his Brexit deal to Parliament.
Downing Street has indicated that the government may be open to an earlier date than December 12 to get all Opposition parties on board.
Under the Fixed Term Parliament, the next General Election is not due until 2022 and to push it through any time earlier, the PM needs the Parliament's backing.
The latest developments in Westminster follow the EU agreeing to offer the UK a three-month extension to the Brexit deadline, until January 31 next year, which Boris Johnson formally accepted by issuing a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk and informing the Commons that he had done so.
"We must have December 12 as a 'hard stop'. A parliamentary terminus that everyone can believe in, and an election fulfils that purpose to allow a new Parliament and a new government to be in place by Christmas," Johnson told the Commons as he moved his election bid which was rejected by MPs on Monday night.
The EU responded to Johnson's letter saying the written procedure can now be go ahead for the so-called "Brexit flextension", which means the UK could leave earlier than January 2020 once a deal has been ratified. But the prospect of Britain leaving the economic bloc by Thursday is now effectively off the table.

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First Published: Oct 30 2019 | 1:20 AM IST

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