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    Downing Street Denies Government Rift Over Further Brexit Strategy - Report

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    While British lawmakers voted by a slim majority on 22 October to endorse Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit bill in principle, they rejected an accelerated timetable for debating it, with the UK now awaiting a decision from the EU on an extension beyond the current withdrawal deadline of 31 October.

    No 10 Downing Street has rejected reports of discord within UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government over further steps to facilitate the Brexit process, reports the BBC, saying the government has indicated Johnson will seek a snap election if the EU proposes extending the Brexit deadline until January.

    As some ministers are believed to be in favour of focusing on getting Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill through Parliament instead of a poll, sources at No 10 reportedly insisted there was no visible rift regarding the cabinet's Brexit strategy.

    The current dilemma of what immediate steps should be taken in connection with Brexit comes in the wake of Tuesday's Commons vote, where the Prime Minister’s withdrawal bill won support in parliament but saw MPs reject a three-day deadline for debating it.

    This outcome dashed all realistic prospects of the UK leaving the bloc by the 31 October deadline, as Johnson had repeatedly pledged.

    The Prime Minister promptly froze all debate on his Withdrawal Agreement Bill while waiting for an EU decision on whether they would grant a delay to Brexit.

    A decision by Brussels is not expected until Friday.

    Earlier, on 19 October, Johnson was forced under legislation called the Benn Act to send a letter to Brussels requesting a three-month extension, after MPs voted by 322 to 306 to withhold approval of his EU exit deal.

    According to the prime minister's official spokesman, Johnson spoke to European Council President Donald Tusk and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday to communicate his continued opposition to a delay, warning of its “corrosive impact”.

    While EU ambassadors have had an informal discussion on a Brexit extension, agreeing on the need for it, the duration of this possible extension remains under discussion.

    EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, Ireland's Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker address a press conference during an European Union Summit at European Union Headquarters in Brussels on October 17, 2019.
    © AFP 2019 / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD
    EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, Ireland's Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker address a press conference during an European Union Summit at European Union Headquarters in Brussels on October 17, 2019.

    Chances of a pre-Christmas election

    As Boris Johnson’s allies reportedly claim he would prefer to seek a general election over further withdrawal delays, there have been reports of divisions among ministers and senior government advisers over whether to press for a pre-Christmas poll.

    Johnson's chief adviser Dominic Cummings, according to the Sun, is leading calls to abort efforts to get the Brexit deal through Parliament and opt for an election.

    Some, like Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith, are said to be among the ministers arguing that a bill ratifying the agreement is still a viable option.

    Talks held between Boris Johnson and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn on 23 October on the Brexit stalemate ended without a breakthrough, according to the Prime Minister’s spokesperson.

    The mere fact of the talks taking place is believed to suggest that No 10 may not be totally enamoured of the notion of a general election.

    Even if Boris Johnson opts for a poll, there is no guarantee he will succeed.

    Under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, the prime minister needs to have the backing of two-thirds of MPs to hold a snap poll – something that has been rejected twice by MPs.

    Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures as he speaks at the parliament, which reconvenes after the UK Supreme Court ruled that his suspension of the parliament was unlawful, in London, Britain, September 25, 2019, in this screen grab taken from video
    © REUTERS / Parliament TV
    Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures as he speaks at the parliament, which reconvenes after the UK Supreme Court ruled that his suspension of the parliament was unlawful, in London, Britain, September 25, 2019, in this screen grab taken from video

    The other potential routes to an election are similarly fraught with obstacles, as one option is for Tories to vote for a no-confidence motion in their own government, even if called by Johnson himself. This process would only require a simple majority of one.

    However, Parliamentary rules state that if it passes, the Commons has 14 days to form an alternative administration.

    This signifies Johnson would run the risk of being forced out of Downing Street should opposition parties unite around a different leader.

    Another method to make an election happen is a one-line bill requiring a simple majority, but any such bill is likely to incur a host of amendments.

    If an election were to be triggered this week, the earliest it could take place would be 28 November, as the law requires 25 days between an election being called in Parliament and election day.

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    Brexit (280)

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