A Liberal Democrat and SNP bid to give Boris Johnson his pre-Christmas election has been branded a “stunt” and a “gimmick” by senior Tories.
But Number 10 hinted it could back the opposition parties’ proposal for a Bill, requiring only a simple Commons majority, that proposes an election on December 9 should Labour decline to back the Prime Minister’s push for a general election on Monday.
Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan, in a Sunday morning interview, dismissed the offer as a “stunt” and said it would not change the Government’s decision to lay a motion on Monday asking MPs for a chance to go to the public on December 12.
The PM’s election bid, under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, would require a two-thirds majority.
Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly echoed Mrs Morgan’s sentiments, calling the Lib Dem-SNP offer a “gimmick”.
Mrs Morgan said: “If the SNP and Lib Dems want an election then they have a chance to vote for one as quickly as tomorrow when the Government’s motion is voted on.
“We will see if they are in our lobby or not,” the Cabinet minister told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme.
Mr Cleverly, in an interview on the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme, added: “We’re not going to listen to two parties who explicitly said they want to stop Brexit from happening.”
But a No 10 source said, if the Government’s request for an election was lost, “we will look at all options to get Brexit done including ideas similar to that proposed by other opposition parties”.
A Downing Street insider said there was now a “gleam of light” in the struggle to break the Parliament logjam.
The Monday motion put down by the PM would need two-thirds of parliamentarians — 434 out of 650 — to back the move, while the Lib Dem-SNP proposal of a tightly-drafted Bill on Tuesday would need only a simple majority.
With the backing of 19 Lib Dem and 35 SNP MPs, Mr Johnson could secure an election without requiring Labour’s support – but the polling date would not be his to choose.
Jo Swinson, leader of the Lib Dems, said the jointly-supported Bill would give legal certainty to the election date of Monday December 9, and ensure a no-deal Brexit is ruled out in the short term.
Fellow Lib Dem MP Chuka Umunna said a “new Parliament” was needed if a second referendum was to gain Commons support.
Pro-EU politician Ms Swinson said the PM could not be trusted on an election date, despite proposing December 12 for a trip to the polls.
“This is a man who is prepared to say anything,” Ms Swinson told the BBC.
“He doesn’t do what he says. The advantage of this Bill is that it enshrines the date in law.”
She said the “time pressure” involved in securing an election before a delayed Article 50 deadline meant the party would not pursue amendments such as votes for 16-year-olds to the Bill.
The PM has requested a three-month extension from Brussels, as per the terms of the Benn Act.
“I would love to see votes for 16… but I recognise that the time pressure we are under right now doesn’t give us that luxury – January 31 isn’t that far away,” she said.
The Lib Dems said their Bill would not allow a general election unless Brexit was delayed until at least January 31 in order to push back the threat of leaving the European Union without an agreement – a move they hope will entice Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party to back it.
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said Labour would “discuss” what was being proposed with opposition colleagues.
Mr Corbyn had previously said he wanted to wait for the EU’s decision over the length of the Article 50 extension before deciding whether to whip MPs in support of Mr Johnson’s bid for a winter election.
Ms Abbot told Marr: “We’ll discuss it with (Ms Swinson). What is problematic about the Bill is not necessarily the notion of an election on December 9, it’s that the Bill is calling on the EU to give us an extension.
“We can’t dictate to the EU what length of extension they want to give. We have to hear from them.”
But shadow health sectary Jon Ashworth struck a more combative note when he labelled the Lib Dem-SNP proposal “entirely ridiculous”.
“It’s just a stunt so the Lib Dems can get on the telly today,” he told Sky News.
A fresh opinion poll from researchers Opinium made for worrying reading for Labour, putting the Tories 16 points clear of the main opposition party.
Opinium’s survey predicts the Tories would take 40% of the vote, Labour 24% and the Lib Dems and Brexit Party following with 15 and 10 points respectively.
Mr Ashworth admitted he could see the polling was “not great” for his party but said he thought Labour could “win people over to our programme” during an election.