The key Brexit vote tonight is on the programme motion. The sense is that the government has the votes to carry the second reading. But that wouldn’t guarantee the UK leaving on 31 October, as the committee and report stages could take weeks and see a slew of amendment added to the bill.
If Boris Johnson is to meet his 31 October deadline, he’ll need to carry the programme motion which would see all the Commons stages of the bill done in the next 60 hours or so. Right now this vote is, as us nervous journalists like to say, ‘too close to call’.
In an attempt to pressure MPs into approving this accelerated timetable, Boris Johnson has said he’ll pull the bill if the programme motion is defeated and the EU offers an extension to the end of January or longer.
In other words, he is saying that if the EU only offers an extension of a few weeks—keeping the pressure on parliament to ratify—he’ll plough on. But if the extension is longer than that, he’ll go for a general election.
Now as we all know, the date of the election is no longer in the gift of the Prime Minister. Labour and the opposition parties could again block it despite this being an election once an extension has been secured, their previous test for backing going to the country.
But the fact Boris Johnson regards an election as something that Labour MPs should fear is telling. It suggests, as do the polls, that Labour would lose from an election and the Tories gain.