Boris Johnson will attempt to force a snap general election on October 14 if MPs vote to block a no-deal Brexit on Tuesday, a senior government source has said.
The prime minister has insisted there are “no circumstances” in which he would ask the EU to delay Brexit beyond October 31.
If MPs on Tuesday vote to seize control of the Commons to pass laws, which could oblige Johnson to seek a Brexit delay to January 31 2020, he would look to call a general election, the source said.
Speaking on the steps of No.10 Downing Street on Monday evening, Johnson said if MPs voted against the government they would “chop the legs” out from under the UK’s negotiating position with Brussels.
Tory rebels opposed to no-deal, including former chancellor Philip Hammond, have been warned they will be barred from standing for the party if they defy the PM.
Johnson did not explicitly threaten to call for an election, but he added: “I don’t want an election. You don’t want an election. Let’s get on with the people’s agenda.”
But later, a senior government source said Johnson would publish a motion on Tuesday to call a general election under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011.
This would make clear to MPs they face a choice between backing the rebel anti-no deal plan and triggering an election, or allowing Johnson to continue with negotiations on a deal.
The source said: “If MPs vote tomorrow to take over, destroy Britain’s negotiating position, to make it impossible for the UK to negotiate a deal with Brussels, we would then move to an FTPA vote which we would expect to bring about an election”.
October 14 has been chosen as the date to give the new PM time to prepare for the European Council summit of October 17-18 at which Johnson is hoping to get a better withdrawal deal.
Under the terms of the Fixed Terms Parliaments Act (FTPA), Johnson cannot simply call an election. He would have to persuade two-thirds of MPs to vote for it.
A senior government source said that the PM would treat as a “vote of confidence” the vote due on Tuesday to allow MPs to seize the Commons timetable.
Tory rebels were firmly in Johnson’s sights but one source close to the group said: “It’s a bit rich for the Prime Minister to point the finger at colleagues who plan to defy the party whip - colleagues who voted for a deal three times - while he voted with Jeremy Corbyn to inflict the two biggest parliamentary defeats on a government in British history.
“The Prime Minister seems to be doing everything he can to bring about an election, while claiming it’s the last thing he wants.”
Some Labour MPs are wary of agreeing to an election if it allows Johnson to hold the campaign over October 31, leaving parliament powerless to block a no-deal exit on that date.
Tory rebels are also urging Jeremy Corbyn not to back an election before the anti-no deal legislation passes the Commons.
But the Labour leader said on Monday that “of course” he would want an election as leader of the opposition.
Sources insisted that Johnson had no desire to move the date of the election to after the Brexit deadline, as some pro-EU MPs fear.
“That has not been on our mind, that is speculation that has been created elsewhere, and is nowhere near our thinking,” one said.
The source was unable to say what would happen if MPs do not allow the government time to table its election motion, having taken over Commons business.
And they were unable to say what Johnson would do if Corbyn chooses not to back an election, leaving Johnson deprived of the two-thirds majority he needs.
Johnson said the chances of the UK reaching a new deal with the EU that MPs would vote for “have been rising”.
But he claimed the “one thing that can hold us back in these talks it is the sense in Brussels that MPs may find some way to cancel the referendum”.
The source said negotiations with the EU and preparations for no deal on October 31 would not be affected by an election campaign as officials could continue the government’s work.