Boris Johnson has told Jeremy Corbyn to “man up” and back his plans for a pre-Christmas general election, as EU ambassadors agreed that an extension to the UK’s membership is needed.
The Prime Minister reiterated his offer to give MPs more time to consider his Brexit plan if they agreed to a poll on December 12, and told the Labour leader it was up to him to decide whether to get the deal done.
Mr Johnson insisted Britain could still leave the EU on October 31 – despite the EU 27 accepting the “principle of an extension” – but said the fate of Britain’s exit date was now in Brussels’ hands.
During his eighth visit to a hospital since becoming PM, he told reporters in Milton Keynes that Labour was “split from top to bottom” on whether to hold an election.
“We have got Momentum, who are the communists who back part of the Jeremy Corbyn enterprise, saying they want an election.
“And then you have got loads of MPs led by guys like (Sir) Keir Starmer and Tom Watson who don’t seem to want an election…
“Time for Corbyn – man up. Let’s have an election on December 12.”
Last month, Mr Johnson was criticised for calling the Opposition leader a “big girl’s blouse” during Prime Minister’s Questions over his decision not to back the PM’s bid for an election while the risk of a no-deal Brexit remained.
Chancellor Sajid Javid earlier conceded the Halloween deadline had slipped away, but Mr Johnson insisted Britain could still leave the EU on October 31.
He said: “Unfortunately it depends on what the EU says. We’re in a situation now in which under the terms of the surrender Act which was passed by Parliament, it is up to the EU to decide whether or not we stay in the EU.”
Mr Johnson said the Government would continue to pursue the rest of its domestic agenda, while pressing for an election.
“We are going to be governing in the interests of the country. We are going to be continuing with our dynamic One Nation Conservative agenda,” he said.
“What we won’t do is engage in pointless Brexitology in Parliament when Parliament is simply committed to delay.”
Labour – whose votes will be needed if the PM is to get the two-thirds majority in the Commons which he requires to go to the country – has said it will only back the plan if Mr Johnson makes “absolutely clear” no deal is off the table and a January extension is granted.
“I’ve said all along – take no deal off the table, and we’ll have the election,” Mr Corbyn told ITV’s This Morning.
But there are concerns in Whitehall that if ministers cannot get the Withdrawal Agreement Bill through now, they will be facing the prospect of yet another extension beyond January 31, with the possibility MPs could again take control of the Commons timetable to pass a “Benn Act 2”.
Following the meeting of EU ambassadors on Friday, the European Commission’s chief spokeswoman Mina Andreeva told a Brussels press briefing: “The EU 27 have agreed to the principle of an extension and work will now continue in the coming days.”
She said their intention was to take the decision by a written procedure, reducing the likelihood of an emergency EU summit next week – just days before Britain is currently due to leave.
An EU source said the ambassadors’ meeting was constructive and there was “full agreement” on the need for an extension.
They are expected to meet again on Monday or Tuesday to finalise an agreement.
The Prime Minister was forced by Parliament to write to Brussels requesting the delay after failing to win approval for his deal at last weekend’s special Saturday sitting.
However, many MPs say his proposed election timetable – which would require them to complete the ratification of his deal by November 6 when Parliament would be dissolved – still does not allow time for proper scrutiny.