Suffering a third defeat in the House of Commons in two days, Boris Johnson’s Brexit plans lie in disarray.
Standing before rows of new police recruits in Wakefield – a pro-Brexit constituency – on Thursday, Johnson said he wanted to recruit 20,000 new police officers.
“What we want to do is get as many officers as possible out on the streets,” he told student officers in his first public remarks following a series of humiliating defeats in parliament.
At the start of the week, Johnson had a governing majority of one member of parliament. By the time of his speech on Thursday, he had lost scores of party leaders, including his own brother, Jo Johnson.
“He has put himself on an election footing,” said Al Jazeera’s Jonah Hull, reporting from London. “He can’t do much else, he is hemmed in, and so he is preparing for an election.”
During his speech at the West Yorkshire Police Headquarters on Thursday, Johnson attacked Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for not backing his plans for a snap general election.
A backdrop of police officers was intended to project a “strong on crime” prime minister, though the heat was too much for a recruit who almost fainted and had to duck down from view.
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott criticised the Conservative leader for the incident, tweeting: “He saw that happen, and he ignored it. Tells you everything you need to know about this man – and how much he really cares about the police service.”
Labour MP Stephen Doughty asked in parliament why Johnson was attending a “political electioneering stunt” with the police officers.
“This is clearly entirely inappropriate,” he said. “I think serious questions need to be asked about the use of police time in this way [and the] potential politicisation of the police.”
I'd rather be dead in a ditch.
Earlier in the day, reporters asked Johnson about the resignation of his brother as a minister and MP. If his own brother couldn’t back the prime minister, he was asked, why should anyone else?
“Jo doesn’t agree with me about the EU. It’s an issue which divides families and everybody,” he said.
When asked if he could guarantee he would not ask the EU for an extension to the October 31 Brexit deadline, Johnson replied: “Yes. I’d rather be dead in a ditch.”
He declined to give a direct answer when asked if he would resign instead as prime minister.
In the northern town of Wakefield, a constituency held by the opposition Labour party, 66 percent had voted for the UK to leave the EU in the 2016 Brexit referendum.
“It’s said to be a constituency the Conservatives think they can win back from Labour,” said Al Jazeera’s Hull. “And the Conservatives are feeling that, with this heavy pro-Brexit rhetoric he [Johnson] has been deploying, they think they can win back some support.”
In his speech at Wakefield, Johnson reiterated his desire to hold an election on October 15, two days before a key European Council summit.
“He has lost control of events, he has lost control of strategy, and he is doing the only thing he can,” said Hull. “Which is to prepare for an election, and it is an election he is determined to win.”
Johnson’s government will likely on Monday again attempt in parliament to call a snap election.
The opposition parties are wary and suspect that Johnson may still pull some kind of a trick to thwart their plans to block a “no-deal” Brexit.
Labour continues to game-plan the potential scenarios, with some within the party arguing once their delaying legislation turns into a law, they should accept the challenge of going to the polls.
Others, including Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw, say they should let Johnson “stew in his own juices” until the delaying law is enacted and only agree to fight an election in November.