On Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s chief of staff cancelled all leave for Government advisers until Brexit day on October 31. The move raised further speculation a snap election could be pushed through in the wake of Mr Johnson’s appointment and the ongoing Brexit deadlock. If an election is called, the Government will be hoping to increase its majority to break the deadlock over Brexit in the House of Commons.
Special advisers (Spads) were emailed by Mr Johnson’s senior adviser Edward Lister on Thursday night, saying there was “some confusion about taking holiday”.
They were told not to book any leave until October 31, with compensation considered “on a case by case basis” for those who had already booked leave.
The email said: “There is serious work to be done between now and October 31st and we should be focused on the job.”
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Mr Johnson himself also wrote to all members of the civil service, telling them the Government’s main focus was now to prepare for a no-deal Brexit.
In the letter, he said he wanted to underline that the UK would be leaving on October 31 “whatever the circumstances” and that the civil service must prepare “urgently and rapidly”.
Downing Street refused to deny that a snap election would need to take place in the first few days of November if MPs forced a vote of no confidence in Mr Johnson or blocked a no deal in the House.
Also on Thursday, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn wrote to Sir Mark Sedwill, the Cabinet secretary, accusing the Prime Minister of plotting an “unprecedented, unconstitutional and anti-democratic abuse of power” if No 10 delayed an election until immediately after October 31 if Johnson lost a no-confidence vote among MPs, rumoured to be plotted for Parliament’s return in September.
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In his letter, Mr Corbyn demanded urgent clarification of the purdah rules, which are meant to prevent the Government from making major policy decisions during an election campaign.
He asked Sir Sedwill to confirm that if the UK is due to leave the EU without a deal during an election campaign, then the Government must seek an extension to Article 50 and allow an incoming administration to make a decision about Brexit on the basis of the result.
However, Mr Johnson is unlikely to trigger the election process until he is left without another choice.
The Conservative majority in Parliament is already razor-thin, even more so since the Lib Dems took the Welsh constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire in the recent by-election. – leaving Mr Johnson with a majority of just one.
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Under the 2010 Fixed-term Parliaments Act, there are only two ways an early general election could be triggered.
The first is via a two-thirds majority of MPs voting for a motion to hold an early election – this is how Theresa May called the disastrous 2017 snap election three years before it was due to take place.
The second is through a simple majority vote of no-confidence in the Government, which carries a 14-day cooling-off period in which the Government can try and regain the confidence of the House.
If the Government fails to put an administration together which receives the support of MPs, then an election is triggered and the Prime Minister must advise the Queen on a date for holding it.
Labour previously attempted a no-confidence motion against Mrs May’s government in January, which was narrowly defeated 306-325.
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