Boris Johnson looked set to try for an election after Parliament blocked his plan to rush his Brexit deal into UK law.
A day of threats and promises from Johnson ended with an official in his office warning that if the EU agreed to a request from the British Parliament that Brexit be delayed until January 31, then the prime minister would call an election instead.
As European Council President Donald Tusk had earlier signalled that this was what the EU was likely to do, Johnson is likely to put passing his Brexit deal — something he discovered that he has the votes to do — on hold in favour of trying to secure a parliamentary majority.
His gamble will be that voters give him one, attracted by his pitch of getting Britain out of the EU with the deal he’s negotiated. The risk is that the polls that put him well ahead prove unreliable — as they have done in the past — and that voters opt instead for the opposition Labour Party’s offer of a softer Brexit, confirmed by a second referendum. That could put the entire Brexit project in jeopardy.
One risk that has receded is that of a no-deal Brexit, as Johnson is now committed to a deal, and the EU seems likely to allow the time to either pass the deal or have an election.
“One way or another, we will leave the EU with this deal, to which this House has just given its assent,” the prime minister told Parliament.
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland suggested he wanted Parliament to come up with an alternative timetable to break the impasse, rather than hold an election.
Johnson’s opponents argued that they needed more time, and voted 322 to 308 against his proposed timetable.
That defeat made it certain the prime minister would need to delay Brexit, something he’s promised repeatedly not to do.
Labour’s Corbyn offered to work with Johnson to come up with a better timetable to help Parliament improve the deal.
Johnson himself seemed more emollient than earlier, not raising his election threat again.