Boris Johnson hit by Tory backlash as he ditches Brexit bill to push for general election

Posted On: 
29th October 2019

Boris Johnson has been hit by a Conservative backlash as he abandoned his own Brexit bill to instead make a fresh push for a general election.

The Prime Minister will launch a fresh attempt to secure a general election on Tuesday.
Credit: 
PA

Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg told MPs on Monday night that the Government “will not bring back” the Withdrawal Agreement Bill and would instead press ahead with a plan to trigger a snap poll.

Dumping the WAB is a key demand of the SNP and Lib Dems, who could now support Mr Johnson's latest election bid.

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But the decision sparked anger from the Tory benches, with one MP saying voters would be “perturbed” by the move.

The WAB - which would put Mr Johnson’s deal with the EU into law - won backing at its second reading last week, but MPs voted against the Government’s timetable to get it passed in just three days.

MPs will instead be asked to fast-track a new “Early Parliamentary General Election Bill”, aiming to sidestep the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.

Mr Johnson has tried and failed on three occasions to call a snap poll, but failed to get the support of two-thirds of MPs, as required under the FTPA.

Mr Rees-Mogg said the new bill, which will be introduced on Tuesday, would be “extremely short, simple and limited in scope” and end the “stalemate in Parliament”.

And he said: “I shall also make a further business statement tomorrow regarding the business for the rest of the week, but I can assure this House that we will not bring back the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill.”

But Conservative MP Simon Hoare said: “May I ask the Leader of the House what we are to say to constituents and others about the fact that we may be able to find time for a five to six-week general election campaign and then the rigmarole of forming a government and yet not for bringing back the withdrawal Bill?

The North Dorset MP added: “That is despite the fact that, against all the odds, including my expectation, the Prime Minister played a blinder.

“He got a new deal and secured for the first time in this House a cross-party majority for it. 

“My hunch is—my fear is—that many people in the country will be slightly perturbed by the course of events that my right honourable friend has set out before us.”

Former Cabinet minister Damian Green meanwhile said Mr Rees-Mogg had become “less convincing as he goes on” - and urged the Government to press on with getting the Brexit Bill through the Commons.

“Surely the fact that the House rejected the programme motion on offer means that the sensible course of action—which, frankly, voters on all sides would expect of us—is to have a different programme motion and put into effect the Bill that has already given a Second Reading,” he argued.

That view was echoed by Cheltenham MP Alex Chalk, who said while some MPs had voted against the Withdrawal Agreement Bill out of opposition to Brexit, others had “not unreasonable” concerns that the timetable for scrutinising it was too short.

“Surely the proportionate and sensible thing is to offer the House more time,” the Tory backbencher said.

And he added: “If it does not vote for it, the Government will take their course, but surely they should at least try.”

The move also drew fire from Labour MP Melanie Onn, one of the 19 Labour rebels who defied Jeremy Corbyn to back the Withdrawal Agreement Bill last week.

Ms Onn, who represents the heavily Leave-backing seat of Grimsby, said she was “completely and utterly confused” by the push for a general election.

She said: “Did the Government pass the Second Reading of the withdrawal agreement Bill or not? Did the Government succeed in winning on their Queen’s Speech?

“I cannot understand why, after just two weeks, this Government seem to be throwing in the towel, rather than getting this really important legislation through - having the discussions, having the battle and sorting it out here in Parliament where it ought to be done.” 

'PARALYSIS AND STAGNATION'

The row comes after MPs voted against the latest attempt by the Prime Minister to stage a poll on 12 December.

MPs voted 299-70 in favour of an election on that date, but the bid failed to get the two-thirds majority it needed under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.

That majority will not be needed under the new bill being brought to the Commons on Tuesday, meaning it stands a far greater chance of passing.

Lambasting MPs for refusing to trigger an election, Mr Johnson said: “Millions of families and businesses cannot plan for the future, and I don't believe this paralysis and this stagnation should be allowed to continue. 

“Now that no deal is off the table, we have a great new deal. And its time for the voters to have a chance to pronounce on that deal and to replace this dysfunctional parliament with a new parliament that can get Brexit done so the country can move on.”