Government threatens to work at 'bare minimum' as Labour rejects election call - for now

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Labour has tonight denied Boris Johnson’s plea to hold a snap election in a bid to break the deadlock over Brexit - at least for the time being.

The Prime Minister announced today he would table a motion for an early election on Monday, and if MPs backed him, he would give them more time to debate his Brexit deal.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Photo: PA

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Photo: PA

It was the first time the PM had acknowledged his do or die Brexit pledge made in Wakefield in September, where he said he would “rather be dead in a ditch” than still be in Europe on October 31, was over.

It comes as Brussels looks set to grant a fresh Brexit delay until the end of January after Mr Johnson was forced - under the terms of the so-called Benn Act - to request a further extension.

The PM said it was time for MPs to “make way for a new, fresh Parliament that can deliver on the priorities of the British people” as he announced his plan to hold an election on December 12.

But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he will only back Mr Johnson’s offer of a general election when a no-deal Brexit is “off the table”.

He said: “Take no-deal off the table and we absolutely support a general election.

“I’ve been calling for an election ever since the last one because this country needs one to deal with all the social injustice issues.

“But no-deal must be taken off the table.”

However he stopped short of writing off an election altogether and left open the possibility he could back an election depending on the Brexit extension offered by the EU.

“The European Union will decide whether there’s going to be an extension or not,” he said last night.

“That extension will obviously encompass whether there’s a no-deal or not. Let’s find that out tomorrow.”

Yorkshire Labour MPs echoed Mr Corbyn's cry, with Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman saying: “I’m not voting for any election on Johnson’s terms.”

Mary Creagh, MP for Wakefield, said she could not vote for an election until Mr Johnson’s Brexit deal had been passed through Parliament. She said: “He should work to get the Bill through - which will only happen if there is a People’s Vote on the final deal.”

Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield said it was “not a binary choice”. He said: “[Johnson] has set a false deadline with inadequate time to consider the Withdrawal Agreement Bill after wasting seven days debating a pointless Queen’s Speech. We’ve said all along we won’t vote for a general election until no deal is off the table. It wouldn't be with this.”

John Grogan, Keighley MP, said: “It all seems a bit odd to me and smacks of indecision on the part of the Prime Minister. Either we all stay at Westminster scrutinising the Bill on a proper timetable until we are done or we have a general election.

"To call a general election and then expect everyone to consider the Bill for 10 more days after that is a bit daft. The campaign will effectively have begun and MPs will be torn between Westminster and the campaign trail. We need to do a proper job of considering the Bill.

I cannot support a general election on the basis that the PM has put forward. He needs to sit down with the other party leaders and agree a way forward for the country. Grandstanding gestures, no doubt on the advice of his adviser Mr Cummings, are not really helping.”

Bradford West MP Naz Shah and Sarah Champion, MP for Rotherham, said they would follow their party's line.

But there was some disagreement within the Labour Party last night, it was reported, with some feeling like they should go to the polls.

Hemsworth MP Jon Trickett seemed to hint in a tweet he supported that position. He said: “Looks certain Boris ‘do or die by October 31’ Johnson has broken his solemn vow. He must now face the electorate. But this election will be about more than Brexit. It’s about building a new country.”

In a second tweet he added: "Let's be absolutely clear. Getting rid of this awful Tory Government is our top priority. Our troops are ready, the party is fully prepared. Let's get at them!"

Pressed on whether there is a chance he could back an election on Monday, Mr Corbyn replied: “The principle is: take no-deal off the table, EU answer tomorrow, then we can decide.”

However Downing Street was defiant that if Labour would not vote with the PM, Mr Johnson’s Government would go on strike.

Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said: “Nothing will come before Parliament but the bare minimum.”

A Number 10 source added the Government would pull the Withdrawal Agreement Bill if MPs refuse their timetable and instead “campaign at every stage and at every opportunity for a general election”.

In a letter to the Labour leader, he challenged Mr Corbyn to back his call for an early election and "end this nightmare" for the nation.

The PM said it is "likely" that the EU will grant a delay to the January 31 deadline request based on European Council president Donald Tusk's comments, though he said it is "possible" a shorter one could be offered to November 15 or 30.

If the later deadline is approved, the PM said "it is clear that there must be an election" to avoid the risk of "further paralysis".

He wrote that if the January deadline is granted then MPs "will vote next week" on whether to hold his desired election.

The PM offered to "make all possible time between now and November 6", including Fridays and weekends, available for the Withdrawal Agreement Bill to be debated and voted on.

"It is our duty to end this nightmare and provide the country with a solution as soon as we reasonably can," Mr Johnson wrote.

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson said her party would also not back an election until it was clear a no-deal Brexit had been ruled out.

“Boris Johnson is trying to distract from his Government’s failure,” she said.

“He has missed his do-or-die deadline and is now demanding that Parliament give him a general election and the time to ram through his Bill without proper scrutiny.”