Corbyn to support snap election only if no-deal Brexit is blocked | Politics
Jeremy Corbyn has warned Boris Johnson that Labour will only vote for a snap general election once parliament has prevented a no-deal Brexit.
After Tuesday night’s overwhelming government defeat, Labour’s leader told the prime minister that his MPs would only vote it through once they have halted the possibility of leaving the EU without a deal.
Corbyn and Keir Starmer had earlier consulted lawyers and parliamentary clerks as they sought a way to support a general election while also halting Johnson’s plan to head towards a possible no-deal Brexit.
It follows fears, highlighted on Monday by the former Labour leader Tony Blair, that supporting government plans for a general election would give it a free hand to change the polling date during an election campaign.
After the government suffered a defeat of 328 votes to 301, Johnson immediately told the Commons that he would table a motion seeking a general election rather than accept a bill which would rule out a no deal.
Corbyn replied: “He wants to table a motion for a general election, fine. Get the bill through first in order to take no-deal off the table.”
Labour whips managed to hold down the number of rebels. Two Labour MPs – John Mann and Kate Hoey – voted with the government, while two others – Kevin Barron and Derek Twigg – abstained.
Starmer tweeted: “Hugely important first step in stopping Boris Johnson’s plan for a no-deal Brexit. Important we remain united in making sure the bill becomes law in the coming days.”
Earlier in the day, Labour’s leader and the shadow Brexit secretary were examining plans which might avoid leaving the EU without a deal on 31 October, as threatened by the prime minister.
It is understood that Labour wanted to use parliamentary procedure to force the Conservatives to hold an election on a particular date, instead of giving Johnson an option of moving it until after 1 November.
Labour’s chief whip, Nick Brown, told the parliamentary Labour party that they would not back the prime minister’s snap election plans if it might lead to a no-deal Brexit.
Clive Efford, the MP for Eltham, asked Brown about comments from Tony Blair in which the former Labour prime minister said supporting a general election would be an “elephant trap” because it would give the government a free hand to change the polling date during an election campaign.
Brown was applauded by a packed meeting after replying that Labour would not support a general election that could lead to a no-deal Brexit, a Labour source said.
“There was not that much detail, there was just an unequivocal assurance,” the MP Clive Lewis said.
The choice of polling day is in the gift of the prime minister, who advises the Queen as to which date to proclaim. Johnson could, in theory, schedule an election for after no-deal, in another move that would push the bounds of convention without breaking the law.
Concerns about the possible manoeuvre were raised following a rally in Salford on Monday night, when Corbyn said: “I will be delighted when the election comes. I’m ready for it, you’re ready for it – we’ll take that message out there and above all we will win.”
His enthusiasm caught some Labour frontbenchers by surprise, after a meeting of key opposition figures last week at which it was agreed the first priority was legislation to block a no-deal Brexit.
One shadow minister told the Guardian it would be “wholly irresponsible” to agree to an election before 31 October – but another claimed the doubts about an election emanated from MPs who were sceptical about Corbyn’s leadership.
“Some of the people saying, ‘we can’t have a general election’, are just frightened Jeremy will actually win,” one shadow minister said.
Earlier on Tuesday, Corbyn suggested his party would back a general election – but only if it could also block a no-deal Brexit.
After another cross-bench meeting, Corbyn said: “Labour wants to prevent a no-deal Brexit, and to have a general election, so we can end austerity and invest in our communities. I am confident we can have both, and we’ve been in discussions about a way to achieve this.”
Whether or not Johnson succeeds in forcing a general election, few at Westminster doubt that one is likely in the coming weeks and months, and Labour MPs are turning their minds to the contest ahead.
There is likely to be a lively debate about whether the party’s manifesto should leave open the possibility of going ahead with Brexit.
Labour MPs in leave-voting areas were targeted by party whips seeking to defeat the government.
Leave supporter MP Ronnie Campbell, who has rebelled against Labour several times and backed the government on Brexit, said: “I’m a leaver, there’s no doubt about it – but on this I’m half and half.”