Under normal circumstances, Boris Johnson would be celebrating. But nothing is normal in Brexit Britain.
Despite not having a parliamentary majority, his brand new legislative agenda has just been approved by the House of Commons. Instead of popping open the champagne and getting ready to crack on with governing, Johnson is gearing up for an early general election.
On Thursday afternoon, the Prime Minister said that he would give lawmakers more time to scrutinize his Brexit deal, but only if they agreed to an election on December 12. “If they genuinely want more time to study this excellent deal they can have it — but they have to agree to a general election on December 12,” he said in an interview with the BBC.
A formal motion requesting the vote will be placed before Parliament on Monday. It will be Johnson’s third request for an election, and it stands considerably more chance of being granted than the previous two.
Much has happened in Brexitland of late. Having failed to get his deal approved by Parliament on Saturday, Johnson was forced to ask the EU for an extension to the Brexit process beyond October 31, to avoid the UK leaving without a formal deal.
The main opposition Labour Party had previously stated that it would only go along with an early election if the chance of a no-deal Brexit, accidental or otherwise, was ruled out. Party officials confirmed to CNN earlier this week that this was still its position. If the EU agrees to a lengthy extension, that fear falls away.
In the aftermath of the Queen’s Speech vote, opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn doubled down on his long-held party line that they want “no-deal off the table.”
“I’ve been calling for an election ever since the last one because this country needs one in order to deal with all the social injustice issues. But no-deal must be taken off the table,” Corbyn said.
But there’s no guarantee that opposition lawmakers will support Johnson’s election call. After all, Johnson has working majority of minus 40. Why go along with the Prime Minister’s plan when his position is so weak?
“Parliament has got a dangerous Prime Minister in a cage and Parliament would be wise to keep that dangerous Prime Minister in a cage at least until we remove some of his teeth, if not all,” said the Scottish National Party’s deputy leader in Westminster, Angus MacNeil.
Johnson’s desire for an election has been the worst-kept secret in Westminster for months. Since taking office he’s taken every opportunity to show voters that he’s the man trying to get Brexit done, if only that pesky Parliament would stop blocking him. It’s a message that’s working, if the opinion polls are to be believed.
However, a great deal could change between now and December 12. For example, the opposition parties could decide that instead of voting for Johnson’s election, they instead bring his government down in a vote of no confidence. And of course, by that point, Johnson might have broken his campaign promise to get Brexit done by October 31.
Johnson will no doubt prefer any election to take place after Parliament has passed his Brexit deal and formally left the EU.
That’s why his Queen’s Speech win was the very definition of a hollow victory. It passed with the support of former Conservatives that Johnson himself expelled from the party and the Northern Irish DUP. The latter has already called his Brexit deal worse than Theresa May’s and the former cannot be relied on to get anything through Parliament — including his deal.
So, with his Brexit plans in tatters and time running out, Boris Johnson appears to have finally realized something that’s been painfully clear to others for months: However impressive getting a new deal with Brussels might have been, the Prime Minister has very little control over how Brexit plays out.