BORIS JOHNSON has offered to give MPs longer to debate his Brexit bill if they agree to a December 12 general election.
The prime minister will ask the Commons to decide on Monday if the poll should be held just two weeks before Christmas. If MPs agree, he will allow them to use ‘all possible time’ to debate the bill until parliament is dissolved on November 6 for campaigning to begin.
If they refuse, the legislation will remain in limbo after his bid to get it through the Commons in just three days — allowing for an October 31 Brexit with a deal — was rejected by the House on Tuesday.
Labour said it would only back going to the country once a no-deal was ‘off the table’.
But, if Mr Johnson gets his way, nativity plays could be under threat as school halls are pressed into service as polling stations in the first December general election since 1923.
Conservative chairman James Cleverly said: ‘I don’t want to be the Grinch but we have been prevented from discharging the duty imposed on us.’
In a letter to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, setting out his offer, the PM said the repeated delays to Brexit had been ‘bad for the economy, bad for businesses and bad for millions of people trying to plan their futures’.
He added: ‘It is our duty to end this nightmare as soon as we reasonably can.’
Brussels was expected to grant a three-month Brexit delay today, consigning Mr Johnson’s October 31 ‘do or die’ target to history.
And Mr Corbyn left open the possibility that he could agree to the PM’s request if the extension is agreed.
He said last night: ‘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.
‘Tomorrow the European Union will decide whether there’s going to be an extension or not.
‘That extension will obviously encompass whether there’s a no-deal or not. Let’s find that out tomorrow.’
Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson took a similar line over the offer from the PM, who needs the support of two-thirds of MPs to trigger the early poll.
‘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.
‘The Liberal Democrats will not support any election until it is clear that we can avoid crashing out with no-deal, and that needs an extension from the EU.’
Although the EU was expected to back a Brexit delay until January 31, a ‘flextension’ would allow an earlier departure if Mr Johnson gets his deal past MPs. However French president Emmanuel Macron was pushing for a shorter extension.
And some senior Tories were urging Mr Johnson to just keep trying to get the bill through, rather than pushing for an election, after Labour said it would compromise over the debate timetable.
‘There’s obviously different views,’ admitted Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith. ‘Let’s just get Brexit sorted and get this bill over the line.’
There was good news for the PM as MPs passed his flagship Queen’s Speech by 310 to 294.
But he has little chance of implementing many of its measures this side of an election, with his party now fielding 45 fewer MPs than the opposition.
The SNP’s Angus MacNeil said the offer of a poll revealed Mr Johnson’s weakness. ‘It would be better to keep that dangerous prime minister in a cage at least until we remove some of his teeth, if not all,’ he told MPs.
If he fails to get the votes of two-thirds of MPs, the PM could try to pass a bill lowering the proportion required.