EU leaders are continuing to consider whether to grant a further extension to Brexit against the objections of Boris Johnson.
The Prime Minister has warned he will push for a snap general election if he is forced to accept a lengthy delay to Britain’s departure, potentially into the new year.
However there are signs of divisions among ministers and senior No 10 advisers over whether to press for a December poll.
Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s chief adviser, is reportedly leading calls to abandon attempts to get the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal through Parliament and go for an election.
But Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith is said to be among ministers arguing that it is still possible to pass a Bill ratifying the agreement, despite Tuesday’s defeat for Mr Johnson’s attempt to fast-track it through the Commons.
Tory chairman James Cleverly insisted Brexit could still happen on October 31, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The EU has not agreed an extension and therefore it is absolutely essential that we make sure that we are ready to leave.”
Mr Johnson will chair a meeting of his political Cabinet – without civil servants – on Thursday afternoon. It is thought discussion of an election is likely to be on the agenda.
There are fears among Conservatives that if there is an election before the UK has left the EU, it will play into the hands of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.
Even if Mr Johnson does decide to press for an early election, there is no guarantee that he will succeed.
Under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act he would need a “super majority” of two-thirds of all MPs to call an election which would require Labour support.
Jeremy Corbyn has said Labour is ready to go to the country once it is sure Mr Johnson cannot “crash out” in a no-deal Brexit in the middle of a campaign.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell, however, said Labour is prepared for an election before Christmas “if necessary”.
“We’re hoping, step by step, hoping we can get some agreement with the Government … If we can’t, we’re up for an election for whenever it comes, and we’re confident,” he told ITV’s Peston programme.
But that stance appears to be at odds with the fact there is widespread opposition to an election among the party’s MPs at a time when they are trailing in the polls.
Any decision is likely to wait until Friday when EU leaders are expected to decide whether, and for how long, there should be another Brexit delay.
It is widely thought they will agree a so-called “flextension” to the end of January, with the option for the UK to leave before then if there is agreement in Parliament on a deal.
If leaders cannot come to an agreement, it could mean there will have to be an EU emergency summit, probably on Monday, just three days before the UK is currently due to leave.
It follows reports that French President Emmanuel Macron is keen to press for a short extension of 15 days.
A shorter extension would be a boost to Mr Johnson, who has told outgoing European Council president Donald Tusk that he does not want any further delay.