Members of the One Nation caucus of Conservative MPs met with Boris Johnson this afternoon over concerns the party could shift to a no-deal platform if an election takes place after a Brexit delay. No. 10 sources have suggested such a policy could be the best electoral route for the Tories in this scenario – as they would need something to prevent frustrated Leave voters moving to the Brexit party. However, attendees at the meeting say they left reassured this was not the case – with Johnson suggesting that a policy of only accepting no deal was unlikely to make its way into the Tory manifesto.
But as these MPs worry about the contents of that manifesto, a growing number of Tory MPs are worrying that the election may not be for months yet. The view in No. 10 is that if an extension is forced on the government, Johnson will immediately seek Labour’s support to go to the polls in a general election. Given that Jeremy Corbyn has said he will go for an election once no deal has been taken off the table (at least for a brief period), logic would dictate that Labour would agree. One Corbyn ally suggests the plan as stands is to force the government to seek an extension and then bring the government down in a confidence vote thereby triggering a general election.
However, MPs from a range of parties are hopeful that they can convince figures including Corbyn to push for a second referendum first. Tom Watson and Oliver Letwin have publicly endorsed this strategy. Right now it’s not clear the numbers are there. But were Corbyn to be convinced of the pros of the plan that could change. One cabinet minister tells me that they worry the tide is turning when it comes to an election before the new year: ‘Labour MPs are looking at the polls and they don’t like what they are seeing. The better the Tories fare, the more they are reluctant to have an election’. One government insider says their money is now on an election in the spring.
It’s worth pointing out that within No. 10, there is a view that opposition MPs will have to plump for an election in late November if an extension is agreed. The SNP have previously suggested they are keen to go sooner rather than later and members of Corbyn’s inner circle thought Labour ought to have agreed to one in October. The problem for the government strategy is if these opposition MPs start to coalesce around a second referendum before a general election.