Labour will demand UK election once Brexit extension secured

The opposition previously avoided a snap election, lacking trust in the prime minister not to break the law.

    Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn will face the voters once a Brexit extension is guaranteed [Peter Nicholls/Reuters]
    Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn will face the voters once a Brexit extension is guaranteed [Peter Nicholls/Reuters]

    United Kingdom opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn will demand a general election as soon as a Brexit extension is secured from the European Union.

    The Labour leader also pledged further action to ensure Prime Minister Boris Johnson asks for an extension, as demanded by the Benn Act passed in the days before Parliament was unlawfully suspended by Johnson. There has not been enough confidence on opposition benches that the prime minister would abide by that law.

    "It's not a matter of choice for him, it's an act of parliament that was passed. Last night, he seemed unable to give that undertaking (that he would obey the law)," Corbyn told the PA news agency.

    "We will be taking parliamentary action on this again next week to ensure the prime minister does not crash us out of the EU on October 31 without a deal."

    That action would be to make demands on the prime minister to request the extension, but further discussions are to be held with the cross-party group on the specifics of the wording put before the legislature, he said.

    Pressed on whether he would whip MPs to vote for an election the moment an extension is agreed, he said: "Absolutely. Once we have agreed on the extension and carrying out the law of this country - at that point, and I made that very clear in my conference speech - we will support a general election."

    Anger sparked by Johnson

    Johnson said on Thursday he needs to "reach out" to opposition MPs if he is to win their support in the Commons for a Brexit deal.

    The prime minister said tempers need to "come down" after the angry scenes in the Commons on Wednesday.

    However, he refused to apologise for describing the Benn Act, requiring him to seek a Brexit delay if he cannot get a new deal with the EU, as the "surrender act".

    "I need to reach out across the House of Commons," he told BBC South.

    "I think it is fair enough to call the surrender act what it is. I think it is absolutely reasonable. But we do need to bring people together, and get this thing done.

    "Tempers need to come down, and people need to come together because it's only by getting Brexit done that you'll lance the boil, as it were, of the current anxiety and we will be able to get on with the domestic agenda."

    'Toxic' parliament

    Johnson had sparked fury on Wednesday as he doubled down on divisive rhetoric before storming out of the House of Commons chamber as MPs made impassioned appeals for him to dial down his language.

    He had been begged by Paula Sheriff, a Labour MP, to cease using such terminology, referring to the murder of Jo Cox MP by a far-right Nazi sympathiser. She said the language being used in Parliament had consequences.

    "We should not resort to using offensive, dangerous or inflammatory language for legislation that we do not like and we stand here under the shield of our departed friend with many of us in this place subject to death threats and abuse every single day," said Sheriff.

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    "And let me tell the prime minister that they often quote his words: surrender act, betrayal, traitor - and I for one am sick of it. We must moderate our language and it has to come from the prime minister first."

    She added: "He should be absolutely ashamed of himself." Her words prompted applause from the opposition benches.

    Johnson replied: "I have to say, Mr Speaker, I've never heard such humbug in all my life."

    The prime minister left the chamber shortly afterwards, before Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson described Johnson's words as "sickening", appearing to fight back tears as she revealed she had earlier reported to police a threat against her child.

    Parliamentarians remained furious on Thursday, with more threats against them reported overnight. The office of Labour MP Jess Philips was attacked on Thursday afternoon, and a man arrested after reportedly attempting to kick the door down while yelling "fascist".

    As the House of Commons reconvened, Speaker John Bercow told politicians to stop treating each other as enemies, saying the atmosphere in the legislature was the worst he had known since he was elected 22 years ago.

    "The culture was toxic," Bercow said in parliament.

    And it was not just politicians who were angry. Johnson's own sister, Rachel, described her brother's words as a "particularly tasteless" way to refer to the memory of a murdered woman.

    "Words like 'collaborationist', 'traitor', 'betrayal'; my brother using words like 'surrender', 'capitulation', as if the people who are standing in the way of the blessed 'will of the people' - as defined by 17.4 million votes in 2016 - should be hung, drawn, quartered, tarred and feathered," she told Sky News. "I think that it is highly reprehensible language to use."

    Strategy

    Johnson's combative strategy appears straightforward: ridicule Parliament as a bunch of weaklings wedded to the EU and unwilling to follow "the people's mandate" to pull the country out of the world's largest trading bloc.

    He may not be able to make good on his promise to make Brexit happen on October 31, but he has positioned himself for the inevitable election ahead so he can blame Parliament - and the EU's supposed intransigence - for keeping the UK within the EU.

    While Johnson is setting the stage for a "people-versus-parliament" election, the reality is the nation remains deeply split over the wisdom of leaving the EU, and the debate has become ever more shrill and angry, particularly after the UK's Supreme Court unanimously declared earlier this week that the prime minister acted illegally in suspending Parliament for five weeks.

    Johnson suffered yet another setback on Thursday after MPs rejected his call to briefly suspend their business for the Conservative Party's conference, highlighting the hostility he faces in a Parliament that he is unable to lead or govern.

    He has now lost all seven parliamentary votes he has faced since taking power. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies