Europe Politics

UK set for a December election as opposition Labour party backs calls

Key Points
  • Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said in a statement Tuesday morning that he was satisfied that conditions had been met to go to the polls before Christmas.
  • "I have consistently said that we are ready for an election and our support is subject to a no-deal Brexit being off the table," Corbyn told his senior colleagues.
VIDEO2:5002:50
British PM set to push for another early general election

The British government looks set to get its pre-Christmas wish for a December general election in a vote on Tuesday, after gaining the crucial support of the main opposition Labour party.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said in a statement Tuesday morning that he was satisfied that conditions had been met to go to the polls before Christmas.

"I have consistently said that we are ready for an election and our support is subject to a no-deal Brexit being off the table," Corbyn told his senior colleagues.

"We have now heard from the EU that the extension of Article 50 to 31st January has been confirmed, so for the next three months, our condition of taking no-deal off the table has now been met. We will now launch the most ambitious and radical campaign for real change our country has ever seen," the Labour leader added.

In reaction, sterling rose about three-tenths of a percent against the dollar and was sitting at $1.2856 at 11:15 a.m. London time. The FTSE 100, which often moves inversely to sterling, showed an average fall in bigger U.K.-listed stocks.

It will be the first U.K. election held in the winter months since 1974 and the first December election since 1923.

After a vote on Tuesday afternoon, amendments to the bill may be proposed by any MP. That vote was won by 312 to 295 votes. 

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to put a bill through Parliament on Tuesday that calls for a Dec. 12 election that would only need a simple majority. He needs lawmakers to agree to his plan and his push for a snap poll has already been rejected three times.

The exact date remains contentious, with Labour, the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats all suggesting a slightly earlier date would be preferable.

On Monday evening, lawmakers in the U.K. rejected the government's request to hold a general election on the same date. Under the rules, two-thirds of Parliament, or 434 MPs, needed to approve the motion for it to pass, but it got only 299 as opposition lawmakers declined the opportunity to take on Boris Johnson at the ballot box.

But Johnson's defeat meant a change in strategy from the government. The U.K. leader will now seek a different route to an election — by passing a law with a simple majority that bypasses the 2011 Fixed-term Parliaments Act. He would still need the support of opposition parties but Labour's announcement means it's likely to now pass.

Britain's Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn and Labour Party's Shadow Secretary of State for Departing the European Union Keir Starmer leave a meeting with European Union Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier (not pictured) at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, February 21, 2019.
Francois Lenoir | Reuters

Corbyn had previously said Labour would not back an election unless the possibility of a no-deal Brexit is removed.

Going to the polls is viewed by the Conservative-led government as the best way to secure a strong-enough hold over Parliament that can, in turn, smooth the passage of its Brexit plan. Since 2017, the Conservative Party has needed the votes of Northern Ireland's DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) to hold a slender House of Commons majority.

A consensus of polls suggests that the Conservatives would likely improve its position if a general election was held in the current political atmosphere. It would be the first U.K. general election to be held in the winter months since 1974.

Naturally, opposition lawmakers are split as to whether an election is a good idea. Some claim the U.K. government will use a fresh mandate to force through a no deal, while others questioned the granting of a pre-Christmas election that Johnson looks well-placed to win.

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UK lawmakers will vote on Boris Johnson's election offer Monday

'Flextension'

Early Monday, the European Union granted an extension to the U.K.'s membership of the trading bloc. Britain and Northern Ireland had been aiming to leave on Oct. 31 but with Parliament unable to agree on the terms of the departure, Johnson was legally forced to ask for another extension.

The EU has now given the U.K. until Jan. 31 to leave the bloc with the possibility of an earlier exit if MPs can ratify the divorce deal. European Council President Donald Tusk confirmed the "flextension" on Twitter.