The UK’s ruling Conservative Party has refused to deny rumours it could call a general election after its MPs were called to the Prime Minister’s residence at Downing Street as the parliamentary debate over Brexit reopens on Tuesday.
Such a move would require support from two-thirds of parliament but on Monday Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said an election is “the democratic way forward.”
Opposition parties and a number of Conservative MPs are working to stop the UK leaving the European Union on October 31 without a divorce agreement, which critics say will devastate the UK economy.
Nicola Sturgeon, who heads up the pro-EU Scottish Independence Party, welcomed a potential general election but said it must be before October 31. There are fears the pro-Brexit Prime Minister Boris Johnson could “game” the date to force a no-deal Brexit.
It came as leading Conservative rebels set against Mr Johnson’s Brexit drive have vowed to defy a leadership threat of career-ending expulsion from the party as both sides prepare for a parliamentary showdown on Tuesday.
Rebel MPs were warned on Monday that the whip would be withdrawn and they would be "deselected" from standing as a Conservative candidate in a general election, in a threat that has already attracted criticism and controversy.
David Gauke, a former cabinet minister who is leading a group of 21 that are considering siding with the Labour Party. in an effort to prevent Britain’s departure from Europe without a deal.
Another member of the 21, the former finance minister Philip Hammond, wrote to Mr Johnson seeking clarity about his strategy.
Labour’s shadow cabinet is yet to finalise its plans to halt the government’s pursuit of a no-deal Brexit, but Mr Corbyn has said he will back efforts to stop Mr Johnson’s do-or-die push to leave. “A no-deal Brexit is really a Trump-deal Brexit, leading to a one-sided US trade deal that will put us at the mercy of Donald Trump and the big American corporations,” he said.
The threats made to potential rebel MPs have been seen as an indication that the government is preparing for a general election. Mr Gauke said the government was “almost goading” members of parliament into voting against it.
Mr Gauke suggested that the government could then “purge those who support the rebellion” from the party.
Nick Boles, the former Conservative MP who defected from the party in April after his plans for a so-called soft Brexit were defeated, took to Twitter to criticise Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the wake of the threats.
“There is no institution, no relationship and no international commitment that he is not willing to sacrifice to achieve a No Deal Brexit,” he said.
“Johnson truly is Britain’s Trump,” the independent MP added.
As well as the expulsion threat, Downing Street is hinting it could refuse to recognise legislation that outlawed a deal.
Michael Gove, who is in charge of planning for Brexit, refused to confirm a bill passed by parliament would be given Royal Assent to become law.
Including their pact with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the Conservatives have a majority of just one seat.
The party will therefore become a minority government if just one Conservative MP is removed or defects.
Adding to speculation, Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the UK house of commons, said in a radio interview on Monday that any wise party always prepares for an election.
Two thirds of all MPs would have to support the prime minister if he calls for an election, but one could also be held if no alternative government was confirmed two weeks after a vote of no confidence.
Former prime minister Tony Blair said on Monday that Labour should seek to avoid an election-triggering vote of no confidence and instead lend its support to legislation aimed at preventing the UK from leaving Europe without a deal.
“Should the government seek an election, it should be refused in favour of a referendum,” Mr Blair warned in an address to the Institute of Government.
“If parliament cannot agree, then the right way to consult the people is not through a general election but through a referendum,” he said.
“That means, as MPs from different parties have agreed, that there should not be a motion of no confidence but rather legislation preventing no deal.”
The former prime minister cautioned that “the Brexiteers are laying a trap, to seem as if pushed into an election against their will, when they’re actively preparing for it”.
Speculation about a general election to be held in the near future has been heightened since Chancellor Sajid Javid brought forward the announcement of a cash injection for public services last week.
On Monday, the government launched Get Ready for Brexit, which it claims is the largest ever public information campaign, in order to prepare Britons for leaving the EU.
The taxpayer funded campaign - with a £100m (Dh444m) budget - features adverts which will appear on television, websites, radio stations and in newspapers calling on the public to visit a new website containing advice on how to prepare for Brexit.
The website directs users to specific information for business owners and UK and international citizens with a series of questions.
According to The Times, a significant order for branded mugs and T-shirts has also been placed.