Conservatives split over whether to push for pre-Christmas election or pass Brexit bill

Boris Johnson is facing a split at the top of his party over whether to push for a pre-Christmas general election or focus on getting his Brexit bill through Parliament.

A meeting of the political Cabinet - without civil servants - started at 3pm on Thursday and it is possible a decision could be made or at least discussed on a potential election.

Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg, when asked by ITV News Political Correspondent Paul Brand if Mr Johnson is about to call a snap election, said while leaving Downing Street "we'll have to wait and see".

The Prime Minister warned on Tuesday that if the EU grants the UK a Brexit extension until the end of January, he will push for a snap general election.

However there are signs of divisions among ministers and senior Number 10 advisers over whether to press for a December poll.

Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s chief adviser, is reportedly leading calls to abandon attempts to get the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal through Parliament and go for an election.

But Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith is said to be among ministers arguing it is still possible to pass a bill ratifying the agreement, despite Tuesday’s defeat for Mr Johnson’s attempt to fast-track it through the Commons.

Mr Rees-Mogg has not included a vote on a general election in next week's business for the House of Commons.

He told MPs the business will include the second reading of the Environment Bill on Monday, the second reading of the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill on Tuesday, a general debate on Grenfell on the Wednesday, and tributes to the Speaker's chaplain followed by a general debate on children's services spending on Thursday.

There are fears among some Conservatives that if there is an election before the UK has left the EU, it will play into the hands of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.

It all hinges on EU leaders who are continuing to consider whether to grant a further extension to Brexit against the objections of Mr Johnson, and also if an extension is agreed, how long it should be.

Signs coming from the Conservative Party have been vague on the issue, with Heath minister Matt Hancock refusing to be drawn into what the Government's next step could be.

Asked what the likely strategy will be, he said: "I don't go into likelihoods, I support the prime minister."

It all comes after the Prime Minister was defeated in a special Commons sitting on Saturday, forcing him to write to the EU and request a Brexit delay.

In order to still leave the EU by his deadline of October 31, after MPs backed his Brexit Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB), they voted down plans to fast track it through Parliament.

Mr Johnson then "paused" the bill and said he would wait to hear a decision from EU leaders before deciding what to do next.

The PM’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings is said to be leading the push for an early election Credit: PA

However, even if Mr Johnson does decide to press for an early election there is no guarantee that he will succeed.

Under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act he would need a “super majority” of two-thirds of all MPs to call an election which would require Labour support.

Jeremy Corbyn has said Labour is ready to go to the country once it is sure Mr Johnson cannot “crash out” in a no-deal Brexit in the middle of a campaign.

  • Rebecca Long-Bailey says the ball is in the prime minister's court and that Labour is not running scared of an election

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell, however, said on Thursday Labour is prepared for an election "whenever it comes"..“We’re hoping, step by step, hoping we can get some agreement with the government … If we can’t we’re up for an election for whenever it comes, and we’re confident…” he told ITV’s Peston programme on Wednesday.

But that stance appears to be at odds with the fact there is widespread opposition to an election among the party’s MPs at a time when they are trailing in the polls.

There are also fears over an election within both the Conservatives and Labour that they would lose seats to the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats or the pro-Brexit Brexit Party.

Asked what would happen if the prime minister cannot get enough support to call an election, Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly said he "won't speculate" on the next process.

Any decision over an election is likely to wait until Friday when EU leaders are expected to make their decision on whether, and for how long, there should be another Brexit delay.

It is widely thought they will agree a so-called “flextension” to the end of January, with the option for the UK to leave before then if there is agreement in Parliament on a deal.

If leaders cannot come to an agreement it could mean there will have to be an EU emergency summit, probably on Monday, just three days before the UK is currently due to leave.

French President Emmanuel Macron is said to be pressing for a short delay of a couple of weeks Credit: PA

A shorter extension would be a boost to Mr Johnson who has told outgoing European Council president Donald Tusk that he does not want any further delay.

Meanwhile, Chancellor Sajid Javid told Peston that the Government was “on track” to deliver a budget on November 6, contradicting information given by a spokesperson for Number 10.

Mr Javid said: “The budget’s on track, and as I said at the time when I announced the date, November the 6th, the only situation there won’t be a budget is if there was actually a no deal outcome.”