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Johnson threatens election to stop rebels from blocking no-deal Brexit

By Bianca Britton, CNN

Updated: Mon, 02 Sep 2019 19:58:53 GMT

Source: CNN

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has indicated he will seek an early election in an effort to thwart rebels within his own party who want to stop him taking Britain out of the European Union without a deal.

In a statement delivered outside Downing Street, Johnson said he would not ask Brussels for an extension to the Brexit process, even if Parliament forces him to.

Urging lawmakers to reject a proposal to take no-deal off the table, Johnson made it clear that he would prefer an election over another "pointless" Brexit delay. "I don't want an election, you don't want an election," Johnson said -- with the unsaid implication that a new vote would be the only alternative.

Government officials have been briefing October 14 as the date that Johnson may seek a new election for, according to multiple UK media reports. It's a Monday, which would be another break with precedent, as British elections are typically held on a Thursday.

Under UK law, if Johnson wants to call an election, he must get the support of two-thirds of lawmakers in the House of Commons.

The news broke after Johnson made his statement Monday night, on the eve of what is expected to be a tumultuous day in Parliament.

Earlier on Monday evening, Labour MP Hilary Benn, one of the lawmakers leading the charge against Johnson's Brexit plans, released the text of a bill which aims to prevent a no-deal Brexit on October 31, unless Parliament consents.

"The Bill has cross-party support from MPs who believe that the consequences of No Deal for the economy and the country would be highly damaging. No Deal is not in the national interest," Benn said on Twitter.

A group of opposition and rebel Conservative lawmakers are expected to support the legislation this week. The law would would force Johnson to seek an extension to the Brexit process until January 2020 if he failed to agree a new deal with the EU at a summit scheduled for mid-October.

Lawmakers are fighting against the clock. Last week, the Queen granted Johnson's request for a five-week suspension of parliament -- ostensibly so that the government could reset the parliamentary timetable and launch a new legislative program. But the suspension was widely seen as an attempt to limit the time for Johnson's opponents to prevent a no-deal Brexit.

Johnson is determined that the no-deal option should remain on the table, in order to strengthen the UK's negotiating position. In his Downing Street statement, Johnson said he believed lawmakers would not vote for the bill to prevent a no-deal exit. "But if they do they will plainly chop the legs out from under the UK position and make any further negotiation absolutely impossible," he said.

Rebels on Johnson's side have been told that if they vote in favor of the emergency no-deal legislation on Tuesday, they will be thrown out of the parliamentary party and barred from standing as a Conservative at any future election. Since Johnson only has a parliamentary majority of one, such a move is seen as making a general election more likely.

David Gauke, a former justice secretary and key member of the group of Conservative rebels, accused the Prime Minister earlier of taking a "confrontational" approach. "I don't think there seems to be a huge effort to persuade people to support the government this week. I think they seem to be quite prepared for there to be a rebellion, then to purge those who support the rebellion from the party," he told the BBC.

Johnson's official spokesman told a Westminster briefing that the UK would leave the EU "whatever the circumstances" on October 31. He added: "The Prime Minister has said from the start that he will be energetic in pursuit of a deal. We have put forward reasonable proposals and the PM and his team have been discussing these with EU leaders and the commission over the summer recess."

"It would be entirely unreasonable for MPs, having rejected the previous deal three times, to attempt to bind the hands of the Prime Minister as he seeks to negotiate a deal they can support ahead of EU Council in October."

The European Commission's chief spokesperson Mina Andreeva said the EU was waiting for Britain to come up with "concrete proposals" that were "in line with the withdrawal agreement" negotiated by Johnson's predecessor, Theresa May.

Under UK law, if Johnson wants to call an election, he must get the support of two-thirds of lawmakers in the House of Commons.

The opposition Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said in a speech that he would support an election. "We are working with other parties to do everything necessary to pull our country back from the brink. Then we need a general election."

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted that she would support an early election, so long that it's before the October 31 Brexit deadline.

"As talk of a General Election mounts, I say 'bring it on'," Sturgeon tweeted, "but it must be before Oct 31."

She added: "MPs must not allow Johnson to game the date as a ploy to push through a no deal Brexit."

The pound dropped as low as $1.2035 on Monday, falling as much as 1.1% against the dollar before recovering slightly. The currency is now testing the $1.20 level. It hasn't closed below that point since 1985.

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