Is Boris Johnson gearing up for a November election? PM orders fast-track spending review to fulfil his multi-billion pledges on police, NHS and schools as he threatens poll to force through Brexit
- PM ordered fast-track spending review to make good on police, NHS pledges
- The move has fueled raging speculation about an imminent general election
- Allies say Mr Johnson would set poll date after Brexit if he loses confidence vote
- Move would frustrate Remainer efforts to stop him going through with No Deal
- PM has repeatedly refused to rule out setting the election date for November
Boris Johnson looks to be gearing up for a November election today after ordering a fast-track spending review to fulfil his multi-billion pledges on police, the NHS and schools.
Speculation over an early snap poll has reached fever pitch after Whitehall was told budgets for the next year are being rushed through – in an apparent bid to show the PM is making good on his promise to end austerity.
Mr Johnson repeatedly refused to rule out triggering an election for early November yesterday, amid Remainer fears that he will use the tactic to stop them blocking No Deal.
Jeremy Corbyn has demanded the head of the civil service, Sir Mark Sedwill, stops Mr Johnson if he tries to dissolve Parliament until after the October 31 Brexit deadline. Pro-EU MPs have also urged the Queen to sack the PM if he attempts to cling on after losing a confidence vote.
The attraction of a snap election was underlined yesterday with a YouGov poll suggesting Mr Johnson’s tough stance on Brexit and pledges to boost public service were winning over voters.
The Tories were nine points ahead of Labour on 31 per cent, and Mr Johnson was nearly twice as popular as Jeremy Corbyn, with 39 per cent saying he made a good PM.
However, there are warning signs for the premier, as the unashamedly pro-Remain Lib Dems were on 21 per cent and the Brexit Party was on 14 per cent.
Mr Johnson has so far resisted pressure to consider an electoral pact with Nigel Farage’s insurgent party, but many Tories believe he will need to do a deal to avoid Eurosceptic support being split.
There was also some bad news on the economy today, with new figures showing UK plc shrinking in the second quarter for the first time since 2012.
Boris Johnson (left on a visit in Oxfordshire yesterday) refused to rule out a snap election as he ordered a fast-track spending review. Dominic Cummings (pictured right leaving his London home today) is believed to be masterminding the No10 Brexit operation
The Prime Minister (pictured with Larry the No 10 cat in Downing Street yesterday) insisted he remained ‘confident’ it would be possible to reach a new agreement with the European Union before Britain is due to leave on October 31
The attraction of a snap election was underlined yesterday with a YouGov poll suggesting Mr Johnson’s tough stance on Brexit and pledges to boost public service were winning over voters
The Prime Minister (pictured yesterday in Abingdon) has so far refused to open negotiations with Brussels unless the Northern Ireland backstop is dropped from the Withdrawal Agreement
In a BBC interview Mr Johnson said there were ‘conversations going on the whole time’ and suggested a new agreement could found if the EU showed ‘flexibility’ on the issue
Chancellor Sajid Javid last night scrapped the normal process of departments bidding for their budgets for the next five years.
Countdown to Brexit
Here are some key dates in the countdown to Brexit:
September 3: Parliament returns from its summer recess
Early September: Labour is expected to trigger a vote of no confidence in Boris Johnson’s Government
Early/Mid-September: If Boris Johnson loses the confidence vote, Remainers could try to install a cross-party administration to delay Brexit past October 31
Early/Mid September: Alternatively if Mr Johnson loses a general election is triggered if no one can form an administration within 14 days. But there are few rules on when he has to hold it
Early/Mid September: Or the Queen could step in and demand Mr Johnson resign, should he try to remain in No 10, sparking a potential constitutional crisis
October 31: Brexit day, when the UK is currently due to leave the EU
Early November? A possible post-Brexit General Election
Instead, he ordered civil servants to complete a one-year ‘Spending Round’ within weeks to fund commitments on the NHS, police and school funding.
The cash will also go towards helping departments prepare for a No Deal Brexit on October 31.
Officials will complete the process by September – ahead of a No Deal Budget which could be in early October.
Mr Javid said: ‘We will get Brexit done by October 31 and put our country on the road to a brighter future. The Prime Minister and I have asked for a fast-tracked Spending Round for September to set departmental budgets for next year.
‘This will clear the ground ahead of Brexit while delivering on people’s priorities.’
The Treasury said a one-year Spending Round completed in September will give Government the ‘time and space’ to focus on delivering Brexit.
The next multi-year Spending Review will now be carried out in 2020. Former chancellor Philip Hammond said in July he would pass the decision to carry out a spending review to his successor.
He claimed the uncertainty around Brexit made it impossible to decide at the time whether the review should take place and what period of time it would cover.
Many MPs believe a general election is inevitable this autumn if Mr Johnson tries to take Britain out of the EU without a deal.
A significant number of Tories would vote no confidence in the PM, claims Vince Cable
A ‘significant number’ of Tories would support a no-confidence motion to stop No Deal Brexit, Sir Vince Cable has claimed.
Speaking on BBC’s Newsnight, the former Lib Dem leader said there would be wide support for an ’emergency administration’ to take over and avoid the UK crashing out of the EU.
Sir Vince said some MPs would not be able to support a new Government led by Jeremy Corbyn, but that they may be able to support a ‘more broadly based group’.
He said Parliament would reject a no-deal Brexit because the ‘consequences are so dire’.
Meanwhile, Lib Dem MP Chuka Umunna ridiculed the idea that Mr Corbyn could put together a majority to become PM.
‘The problem there is with the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn taking up the role of leading an emergency government is he cannot command a majority among his own MPs, never mind others like Conservative rebels who would refuse to give him confidence,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today.
‘I know, because I have spoken to them, there is a substantial minority of Labour MPs at the very least who simply would not countenance Jeremy Corbyn being the prime minister of this country.’
Labour has threatened to stage a confidence vote when the Commons returns from recess next month, with the result on a knife edge.
If such a vote is lost, there is a 14-day period for a government to win a new confidence vote before an election is sparked. But as the outgoing PM, Mr Johnson would have control over the date of that election.
Mr Corbyn has told Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill he cannot allow Mr Johnson to trigger a campaign over the October 31 deadline for leaving the EU.
The Opposition says Sir Mark must be a ‘voice of sanity’ after Mr Johnson’s allies confirmed that if he loses a confidence vote he will simply set the polling date for early November – dissolving Parliament and leaving MPs powerless to prevent the process.
But Tories hit back that Mr Corbyn was playing politics and betraying his previous promise to honour the result of the 2016 referendum.
The stark threat from No10 has thrown Remainers into chaos as they scramble to find a way to prevent the premier keeping his ‘do or die’ vow to take the UK out of the bloc by Halloween.
The row has stretched the UK constitution to breaking point, with calls for the Queen to sack Mr Johnson to avert No Deal.
The usual principle is that government maintains the ‘status quo’ during an election period, rather than making any radical decisions.
However, while pro-EU MPs argue No Deal would be a major shift, leaving on October 31 is the legal default since Parliament voted to invoke Article 50 more than two years ago.
In a wide-ranging BBC interview last night, Mr Johnson refused to answer repeated questions about whether he would ignore a no confidence vote if he lost it in September and simply ‘dig in’ at No 10.
He said he still believed it was possible to find an agreement which would allow Britain to leave with a deal at the end of October.
The Labour leader appealed directly to Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill, pictured with the Prime Minister above, insisting Mr Johnson should be blocked from taking Britain out of the EU during a general election campaign
The British economy went into the red for first time since 2012 in the last quarter, official figures showed today
Mr Johnson has so far resisted pressure to consider an electoral pact with Nigel Farage (pictured in London this summer), but many Tories believe he will need to do a deal to avoid Eurosceptic support being split
Instead he urged MPs to ‘get on and deliver’ Brexit as he repeatedly refused to rule out bypassing Parliament to force through a No Deal break.
The Prime Minister has so far refused to open negotiations with Brussels unless the Northern Ireland backstop is dropped from Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement, something the EU side has refused to countenance.
UK economy goes into the red for the first time since 2012
The British economy went into the red for first time since 2012 in the last quarter, official figures showed today.
UK plc shrank by 0.2 per cent over the three months, confounding economists who had expected it to flatline.
The worse-than-anticipated figures will fuel fears of a full-blown recession – which technically means two consecutive quarters of contraction – and heap pressure on Boris Johnson over Brexit.
Businesses have been blaming uncertainty over the UK’s future ties to the EU for a slowdown in growth.
It comes after growth accelerated to 0.5 per cent in the first quarter, driven by the highest quarterly pick-up in manufacturing since the 1980s as the original Brexit deadline loomed.
With the UK’s departure from the bloc now rescheduled for October, companies which spent the first three months of the year stockpiling are thought to have been using up their stores.
Manufacturing and construction activity also reduced to cause the drop.
However, he said there were ‘conversations going on the whole time’ and suggested a new agreement could found if the EU showed ‘flexibility’ on the issue.
‘That is the problem, it’s totally unacceptable, we need change on that, once we get change on that I think we’re at the races and I think there’s a good deal to be done,’ he said.
‘We can’t go down that route, but there’s every possibility for the EU to show flexibility and there’s bags of time for them to do it and I’m confident they will.’
The Prime Minister insisted he remained ‘confident’ it would be possible to reach a new agreement with the European Union before Britain is due to leave on October 31.
However he was adamant there could be no more delay beyond Halloween, and that the ‘unacceptable’ Northern Ireland backstop had to go.
His warning came amid reports voting in a general election could take place within days of Britain’s EU withdrawal, if the Government loses a no-confidence motion when the Commons returns in September.
There has been growing outrage among MPs opposed to no-deal at the prospect the Prime Minister could, if he is defeated, try to delay an election until after Britain has left on October 31.
The plan, said to be the brainchild of Mr Johnson’s controversial adviser Dominic Cummings, is intended to prevent rebel Tories and opposition parties thwarting a no- deal, but has been denounced as ‘anti-democratic’ by opponents.
In a BBC interview on Thursday, the Prime Minister repeatedly sidestepped questions as to whether he would try to bypass the Commons and simply ‘dig in’ at No 10.
He insisted that Parliament had already voted to trigger the Article 50 withdrawal process and that it was now up to MPs to honour the result of the 2016 referendum.
‘I think what everybody wants to see, including my friends and colleagues in Parliament, is us deliver on the mandate of the people,’ he said.
Mr Johnson (pictured in Abingdon yesterday) insisted that Parliament had already voted to trigger the Article 50 withdrawal process and that it was now up to MPs to honour the result of the 2016 referendum
‘I think that’s what the voters want, I think it’s what Parliament should do and that means coming out of the EU on October 31.
‘I think that what MPs should do and what I think they’ve already voted to do when triggering Article 50 and reconfirmed several times, is honour the mandate of the people and leave the EU on October 31.’
Earlier, Downing Street aides suggested polling in a general election could take place within a matter of days of the UK leaving if MPs compel Mr Johnson to go to the country, according to the Financial Times.
‘We can’t stop them forcing an election but we control the timetable so we will force the date after October 31,’ one senior No 10 official is quoted as saying.
‘If there must be a general election, then it will be days after October 31.’
Tory MP Nicholas Soames urges PM to put maverick aide Dominic Cummings ‘back in his box’
Boris Johnson yesterday faced calls to put Dominic Cummings ‘back in his box’ – as a former Treasury chief compared the maverick aide to Thomas Cromwell.
Vote Leave guru Mr Cummings has become embroiled in an extraordinary public war of words with Tory Remainers since being installed in No10.
The PM’s adviser Dominic Cummings (pictured in Downing Street this week) has become embroiled in an extraordinary public war of words with Tory Remainers including Nicholas Soames (right)
Tensions have been rising amid alarm at the combative stance taken by Mr Johnson after he solemnly vowed to get the UK out of the EU by Halloween.
One Tory insider told the Guardian that Mr Cummings had introduced a ‘reign of terror’ since entering No10, installing the Vote Leave campaign team in key jobs and threatening to sack anyone not completely committed to No Deal if necessary.
Tory veteran Nicholas Soames urged Mr Johnson to put his adviser ‘back in his box’ by ordering him to ‘put a sock in it’.
‘Cummings is a functionary and should, like a child, be seen but not heard,’ he tweeted.
Former Treasury mandarin Sir Nick Macpherson also waded into the row, comparing Mr Cummings to Thomas Cromwell, the Machiavellian chief minister of Henry VIII in the 16th century who helped him divorce Catherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn.
‘My main advice to public servants, whether political or official, is to avoid self promotion and believing your own myth. Otherwise, it tends to end badly. #thomascromwell,’ he said.
The two options being pursued by Remainers as they battle to block No Deal Brexit
Westminster is braced for an explosive couple of months as the October 31 Brexit deadline looms.
Boris Johnson has made a ‘do or die’ vow to get the UK out of the bloc by the crucial date, with or without a deal.
But Remainer MPs have been mobilising as they seek ways of blocking the country from crashing out.
There does appear to be a majority in the Commons against No Deal – but MPs are badly split over how they should go about binding the hands of the government.
Boris Johnson (pictured in Downing Street this week) has solemnly vowed to complete Brexit by October 31 ‘come what may’, but the EU is refusing to give way on his key demand that the hated Irish border be dropped
Remainers admit they are now at a ‘fork in the road’, with opinion divided between two potential options for averting No Deal.
Some, such as Tory former Cabinet minister Dominic Grieve, have been focusing on whether a no-confidence motion could be passed to evict Mr Johnson from power if he is about to push through Brexit without an agreement.
Mr Grieve has suggested putting a ‘unity’ premier into No10, perhaps Labour veteran Margaret Beckett, who could ask for an extension to the Article 50 process.
However, Mr Johnson’s hard-line Brexit adviser Dominic Cummings has made it known that he would simply refuse to quit even if he loses a confidence vote, and try to call an election for after the deadline.
The other avenue being pursued by Remainers is to pass a law that would oblige the PM to seek and accept an extension to Article 50 from the EU.
Unlike the confidence vote, that would not risk Parliament being dissolved for an election – which could leave MPs powerless to stop No Deal.
But there are concerns that Mr Johnson might either ignore the law or refuse to accept any conditions Brussels puts on an extension.
Option 1: A vote of no confidence in the Government
If the stand-off has not been broken by September, Labour is expected to team up with Tory rebels to stage an early confidence vote to stave off the threat of crashing out.
It is a drastic option that would end the careers of any Conservative MPs who join, but only a PM can request an extension to the Article 50 process, and the legal default currently is that the UK leaves at Halloween with or without an agreement.
As the government’s working majority is just one and with strong cross-party opposition to No Deal, there is a serious prospect that Mr Johnson will lose.
But Mr Cummings reportedly ‘laughed’ at a meeting recently when it was put to him that Mr Johnson would have to quit if he lost such a vote.
Instead, he could try to wait for an election to be triggered and fight it on a ‘people vs politicians’ ticket, complaining that his opponents are trying to block Brext.
He could also try to fix an election date that was after the Brexit date – robbing the Commons of its ability to control the process and achieving a No Deal Brexit by default.
Remainers believe if the premier refused to go quietly the Queen would be forced to sack him and a unity Government could be installed, with Margaret Beckett a rumoured interim leader
Under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act (FTPA), losing a confidence motion triggers a 14 day countdown to an election being called.
During that period it is possible for a Prime Minister to win a confidence vote and prevent the country going to the polls.
However, the legislation is silent on whether the same premier can return to try again.
Remainer MPs say the Queen would have to sack Mr Johnson if he refused to resign after losing a confidence vote.
But the monarch has always been extremely wary of wading into politics, and it is far from clear that there will be another politician with more chance of commanding a majority in the Commons. Labour has already ruled out the Remainers’ favoured option of a national unity government, and Mr Corbyn can barely rely on the support of his own MPs – let along Tories.
Option 2: Passing a law to delay Brexit
Pro-EU MPs have already deployed the tactic of seizing control of Commons business to pass a law insisting on a Brexit delay.
In April a Bill sponsored by Labour’s Yvette Cooper and Tory Oliver Letwin made it through Parliament, which paved the way for the Article 50 extension to October 31.
There are moves afoot to cancel the schedule recess next month, which would give more time.
It would require the assistance of Speaker John Bercow, but he has shown himself will to stretch procedural rules to breaking point in order to facilitate MPs getting involved in the Brexit process.
Potentially this approach would involve an emergency debate – known as a Section 24 debate – being tabled and accepted by the Speaker.
He would then allow the MPs to put down a business motion in the slot the next day, setting out the steps for a law to be passed.
That legislation is likely to be very short, simply instructing the PM to seek and accept an extension from the EU.
Remainers are divided over whether the Bill should point the way to a resolution to the Brexit crisis, such as a referendum.
However, if passed by the Commons and the Lords, Mr Johnson would be breaking the law if he refused to ask for an extension.
Refusing to comply would spark legal action, and cause a constitutional crisis.
If the stand-off has not been broken by September, Jeremy Corbyn (pictured at Whaley Bridge this week) is expected to team up with Tory rebels to stage a confidence vote – which Mr Johnson could easily lose
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