Can Boris Johnson finally get the 2019 general election he desires? LBC News explains

29 October 2019, 12:22

Boris Johnson wants a general election
Boris Johnson wants a general election. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Boris Johnson will ask MPs for a general election for the fourth time in just three months since becoming prime minister, but will he finally get his wish?

The short answer seems to be yes. This morning, Jeremy Corbyn announced his party's decision to back a December election now the prospect of No Deal has been taken "off the table."

Prior to this, Labour had been steadfast in their opposition to the prime minister, saying they could not "trust" him to prevent the UK leaving the EU without a deal in place.

With Labour's support, the chances of Mr Johnson getting the simple majority he requires in the Commons for an election later today has significantly increased.

The government originally planned to put forward legislation calling for an election on 12 December, however No 10 sources said they would consider an amendment allowing a ballot the day before on Wednesday 11.

This move hopes to appease the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party who had previously made moves to propose a 9 December vote.

Although the final date for a 2019 election is yet to be set, there now appears to be a general consensus for a nationwide ballot before Christmas.

But as ever on the topic of Brexit, we are minded to expect the unexpected with more twists and turns undoubtedly possible.

What happened yesterday?

To explain where we currently sit on the issue of a potential election, we need to first look at what happened on Monday in the House of Commons.

Under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act (FTPA), a vote on a general election requires two-thirds of MPs to support a UK-wide poll.

Yesterday, Boris Johnson sought to obtain the backing of 434 MPs but came up short by 135 votes. Immediately after the defeat, he announced his plan to negate the FTPA using a single line Bill proposing a set date of 12 December for an election.

This would need the support of just 320 MPs in the Commons, otherwise known as a simple majority.

The Lib Dems and SNP had united behind similar legislation prior to the announcement, however they called for a 9 December vote to ensure the government would not bring back their Withdrawal Agreement Bill - Boris Johnson's Brexit plan.

In order to appease the pro-Remain coalition Downing Street promised not to put the WAB back in front of Parliament, however the Lib Dem and SNP leaders remained sceptical.

What is today's vote?

As above, today's vote in the House of Commons will be on whether or not to hold an election on a specific date in December and only requires a majority of MPs getting on board.

The government has hinted at compromising on their 12 December date - opposition parties have not ruled out concessions either - and it now appears an 11 December election could be on the cards.

Pro-Remain parties will seek to ensure any legislation put forward today contains a "triple lock" that prevents No Deal, stops Mr Johnson bringing forward the WAB and sets the election date in stone.

If all those factors are written into today's Bill then the government will more than likely receive Lib Dem support, the backing of the SNP and now, perhaps most importantly, the approval of the Labour Party.

Mr Corbyn heard from the EU that an extension of Article 50 to 31 January 2020 had "been confirmed," therefore the guarantee of No Deal being taken "off the table has now been met."

Are there any remaining obstacles to an election?

Several hurdles still need to be cleared in order for an election to take place in December and the biggest sticking point on both sides will be the date.

Although a day or two to most people will seem like a minor issue to squabble over, the importance is significant.

Firstly, an election cannot take place any later than 12 December as it is so close to Christmas, with offices across the country enjoying festive parties and schools holding nativity plays that cannot be disrupted.

The Liberal Democrats say a 9 December election gives the Conservatives no "wriggle room" to put forward the WAB and force Boris Johnson's Brexit Bill through Parliament.

However, the Tories say this date is too early as they need time to pass legislation that will keep Northern Ireland's civil service up and running.

Since then, Downing Street sources have suggested a compromise over the date could be possible.

Another stumbling block could be opposition parties putting forward amendments to the legislation, such as demanding 16/17-year-olds being made eligible to vote.

Such a radical change to the electoral register is something No 10 says will not be possible in such a short space of time.

The single line Bill will also need to pass through the House of Lords where it could be filibustered - delayed and obstructed - and therefore not pass in time for a pre-Christmas election.

What is the timetable for a 2019 election?

Parliament must be dissolved 25 working days before any ballot, therefore an election on 12 December would require Parliament to be closed down at 00:01am on 6 November - taking into account a Scottish Bank Holiday on 2 December - and an 11 December election would move that forward to the same time on 5 November.

The deadline for parties to put forward their nomination papers would be 13 November or 14 November respectively.

For the 11 December ballot people would need to register by 25 of November and sign up for the postal voting by the next day. An election the following day moves all those dates forward by one day.

In short, all the deadlines are extremely tight and are heavily dependent on Parliament passing through the necessary legislation on time.

In order for us to experience the first December election since 1923, all the above would have to run smoothly which, as we have learnt, is easier said than done in the current political climate.