London — Uk Home Secretary Sajid Javid has said “the last thing we want is a general election”, emphasising that the government is still hoping to secure a time limit or unilateral exit mechanism for the Irish border backstop.
He dismissed newspaper reports that Downing Street strategists were considering holding a snap general election on 6 June, if Theresa May cannot get her Brexit deal through parliament before the 29 March deadline.
“The last thing we want is a general election, the people will never forgive us for it,” Javid told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show. “They want politicians to get on with the job. They have been given a very clear mandate, now it’s our job to get on with it.”
There are signs that the Conservatives have started to gear up for a possible snap election, with the party’s chief executive, Sir Mick Davis, placing the party on a “war footing” last week and increased fund-raising activities under the cover of the local elections in May.
A poll by Opinium for the Observer showed the Conservatives six points ahead of Labour at 40% to 34%, but few people believe the party would risk going to the country under May’s leadership after the disaster of 2017 where their overall majority was lost.
“I know that Conservative party headquarters is planning on only one set of elections, which is the local government elections. The last thing this country wants is an election; they want parliament to deliver Brexit in an orderly way,” Javid said.
The home secretary indicated that May would shortly be returning to Brussels for further negotiations — without giving a date — and said that she would be working closely with two senior ministers in those talks.
Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general and government’s chief law officer, will be leading a fresh push to see if “there can be a hard time limit on any backstop or our own exit mechanism”, Javid said.
A second minister, Steve Barclay, the Brexit secretary, will be leading efforts on seeing if alternative technological arrangements can be put in place to eliminate the Irish backstop, so customs checks can take place away from the physical border.
Last week, MPs voted in favour of an amendment in the name of Sir Graham Brady, a senior Conservative, to examine the possibility of alternative arrangements, but it is unclear that the technology to facilitate that exists.
Brexiters in May’s own party remain concerned that the prime minister will fail to secure a legally binding mechanism to effectively eliminate the unpopular backstop in her discussions with an already hostile European Union.
Steve Baker, the vice-chairman of the hard Brexit European Research Group, said there was “trouble ahead” if May was prepared to accept only an attachment to the withdrawal agreement, or codicil.
“Leave-backing MPs voted to support alternative arrangements in NI but with grave misgivings about the whole agreement,” Baker tweeted on Sunday morning, accusing May of co-opting “us into accepting everything but the backstop and, on the backstop, accepting a codicil”.
Downing Street said that was not the case, adding that May wanted to reopen the withdrawal agreement in emergency negotiations, even though the EU has repeatedly said that will not be allowed.
guardian.co.uk (c) Guardian News & Media Ltd, 2019