Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street to head for the House of Commons as parliament discusses Brexit, sitting on a Saturday for the first time since the 1982 Falklands War, in London, Britain, October 19, 2019.
Tom Nicholson | Reuters
If the United Kingdom heads to the polls while the uncertainty over its planned departure from the European Union lingers, the election outcome could backfire for the Labour party, according to one of its members of parliament.
Since the 2016 referendum where people in the U.K. voted to leave the 28-member bloc, the Labour party has tried to play it both ways, with some of its members supporting Brexit while others opposing it, Labour’s Kate Hoey told CNBC on Wednesday.
Hoey is a pro-Brexit member of parliament for a pro-Remain constituency in London. Labour is currently the official opposition party in parliament.
“I think the Labour party will find it very difficult to oppose a general election continually because parliament is in a kind of limbo. There’s no majority, and therefore nothing can get done,” she said on “Squawk Box.”
She explained that prolonged uncertainty over the U.K.’s future has caused frustration and confusion among voters — so much so that many voters who opted to remain in the EU “now just want to get it done as well,” Hoey claimed.
An election “could very much backfire” on the Labour party, she said, adding that many MPs in pro-Leave constituencies up in the North, in the Midlands and in parts of Wales are “feeling very worried about a general election.”
“We’ve honorably said in our manifesto, we would honor the referendum result, but honoring the referendum result means sometimes you have to actually vote to get out. And, of course, that’s not what’s happened,” she added. It explained why the opposition has been reluctant to agree to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s attempts in the past to call for snap elections, according to the MP.
According to the BBC last month, Labour’s position on Brexit is as follows: “It will go into any election pledging to hold a referendum, but, rather than backing either Leave or Remain, the party will remain neutral until a later date.” As for Brexit, the BBC reports that Labour would go into a campaign arguing for a new public vote on Brexit.
Johnson’s short-lived win
On Tuesday, lawmakers voted, in principle, for the government’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill to proceed — it was the first time members of parliament have, by a majority, backed any Brexit deal agreed between London and Brussels. But, that victory was shortlived as MPs then rejected the limited time frame for reviewing the full legislation, which means the U.K. is very unlikely to leave the EU by the Oct. 31 deadline.
The prime minister said earlier Tuesday if his “timetable vote” did not succeed in parliament, he would pull the whole legislation and instead call for a general election. If MPs make major changes to the agreement, despite agreeing to it in principle on Tuesday, the government is also expected to pull the bill.
“Johnson’s preferred Brexit strategy has therefore been derailed,” Mujtaba Rahman, managing director for Europe at Eurasia Group, wrote in a note. “He has now ‘paused’ the passage of the Bill through Parliament and is pondering whether to swallow a short extension beyond his ‘do or die’ deadline for leaving the EU by 31 October, or seek a general election.”
One of the biggest hurdles in the Brexit negotiation has been the Irish backstop — the border between the U.K.’s Northern Ireland and EU member state the Republic of Ireland. It’s the only land border the U.K. shares with the EU.
European Council President Donald Tusk said he would recommend that the other 27 EU member states approve a delay of Britain’s departure date.
Hoey said the EU wants to get the Brexit situation sorted, which means the extension given to delay Brexit is unlikely to be any longer than three months. “It may even be less if the prime minister asks for less time.”
A longer extension from Brussels could “tip the balance in Number 10 over the fierce debate that’s raging over an early election,” Rahman wrote. “Johnson’s decision could come down to whether or not he personally wants one. Some of his aides prefer a ‘parliament versus people’ election before Brexit, to a delay.”
He added that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn likely wants an election but many Labour MPs and some shadow cabinet ministers “oppose a pre-Brexit contest, fearing a bloodbath for their party.”
Labour members are said to be split on their stance for a second referendum on Johnson’s Brexit plans before heading to the polls.
Rahman explained it’s more likely that Johnson will accept the delay and “use it to try and shepherd his Bill through Parliament.”
— CNBC’s Matt Clinch and David Reid contributed to this report.