Britain seemed headed for yet another bout of political turmoil on Friday with sharp hints that Boris Johnson’s fledgling government is gearing up for a snap election in the aftermath of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union with no deal. That election will, in a sense, be a referendum on the eventual decision.
The fact that the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Edward Lister, has cancelled all leave for the government’s advisers until 31 October may be a matter of administrative exigence before the exit. In the wider canvas, the message is intensely political ~ the country is poised to go to polls for the third time within the normal time-span of a government. Two of these elections were called by Theresa May herself, arguably to buttress her authority amidst the controversy over Brexit within the Conservative party.
Mr Johnson has written to all members of the civil service telling them the government’s main focus was now to prepare for a no-deal Brexit, a consummation that should clear the raging confusion. In the letter, the Prime Minister said he wanted to underline that the UK would be leaving on 31 October “whatever the circumstances” and that the civil service must prepare “urgently and rapidly” as its top priority.
“Between now and then we must engage and communicate clearly with the British people about what our plans for taking back control mean, what people and businesses need to do, and the support we will provide.” Downing Street has refused to deny that a snap election would need to take place in the beginning of November if MPs forced a vote on a no-confidence motion against Mr Johnson in early September, but said the Prime Minister would ensure the UK had left the EU on 31 October.
It remains unclear if anti-Brexit MPs in Parliament would be able to compel a general election, as senior Labour and Liberal Democrat members clashed on Friday over their parties’ apparent willingness to place conditions on any unity government or coalition prepared to stop a no-deal Brexit. The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has said Labour would attempt to form a government in the 14 days following a confidence vote, to try to avoid a snap election, but ruled out Labour backing for any unity government candidate.
The post-Brexit flux within can be no less compelling. The plot thickens with the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, accusing the Prime Minister of plotting an “unprecedented, unconstitutional and anti-democratic abuse of power” if No. 10 delayed an election until immediately after 31 October if Mr Johnson loses a no-confidence vote among MPs.