A pro-Brexit supporter is seen outside the Houses of Parliament in London, the UK, October 29 2019. Picture: REUTERS/Yara Nardi
A pro-Brexit supporter is seen outside the Houses of Parliament in London, the UK, October 29 2019. Picture: REUTERS/Yara Nardi

London  — Prime Minister Boris Johnson won parliament’s preliminary approval on Tuesday to hold Britain’s first December election in almost a century in a bid to break the Brexit deadlock.

As the European Union granted a third delay to the divorce that was originally supposed to take place on March 29, the UK, its parliament and its electorate remain divided on  Brexit.

Johnson, who had promised to deliver Brexit on October 31 “do or die”, has repeatedly demanded an election to end what he casts as a nightmare paralysis that is sapping public trust in politicians by frustrating any Brexit outcome.

His bill calling for a December 12 election was approved without a vote in its second reading on Tuesday, suggesting it has overwhelming support as it heads to its final stage in parliament.

There will be a so-called third reading vote later on Tuesday before the bill goes to the House of Lords.

The first Christmas election in Britain since 1923 would be highly unpredictable: Brexit has variously fatigued and enraged voters while eroding traditional loyalties to the two major parties, Conservative and Labour.

Some politicians feel an election so close to Christmas could irritate voters, while campaigning and getting voters out could be hampered by cold winter weather and darkness setting in by mid-afternoon.

In a move that aligned the stars for an election , Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, said he would back an election now the threat of Britain leaving the EU without a deal had been removed.

“Whatever date the House decides the election will be, I’m ready for it, we’re ready for it,” Corbyn told parliament.

A last-minute row over expanding the electoral franchise that could have sunk Johnson’s election bid was averted when opposition proposals to grant the vote to EU citizens with settled status and 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds were not included in a provisional list of amendments to be voted on.

“There is only one way to get Brexit done in the face of this unrelenting parliamentary obstructionism — this endless wilful fingers-crossed ‘not me guv’ refusal to deliver on the mandate of the people — and that is, Mr Speaker, to refresh this parliament and give the people a choice,” Johnson said.

Protracted stalemate 

After four years of arguing over Brexit, almost all British politicians now agree an election is needed to break the cycle of inaction that has shocked allies of a country once considered a bastion of stable Western capitalism and democracy.

An election, though, could decide the fate of Brexit as well as the main players — Johnson, 55, and  Corbyn, 70.

When Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, bet on an early election in 2017, she lost her slender majority — a failure that ultimately prevented her from ratifying her Brexit deal in parliament and sank her political career.

Johnson’s Conservatives are ahead of Labour by an average of about 10 percentage points in polls in October, though pollsters underestimated the support for Brexit in 2016 and admit that the models they use are wilting beside the Brexit furnace.

Reuters