Boris Johnson has told Jeremy Corbyn to “man up” and face him in an election as Brussels delayed a final decision on a Brexit extension.
The prime minister sought to ramp up pressure on the Labour leader after the EU agreed the need to postpone the UK’s exit date, but apparently put on hold approving how long for until Monday’s vote by MPs on going to the polls.
Political opponents at Westminster had been holding out for an extension to be granted and so removing the imminent threat of a no-deal exit, before backing an election.
The prime minister has said he would give MPs more time to consider his Brexit deal if they backed his call for a poll on 12 December.
He needs opposition votes in order to secure the two-thirds Commons majority required by law to hold a national ballot.
In the face of being thwarted over his repeated pledge to leave the EU by 31 October, the PM sought to exploit Labour divisions over a pre-Christmas election.
“Time for Corbyn – man up. Let’s have an election on December 12,” he said.
While Mr Johnson insisted Britain could still leave the EU by the current Halloween deadline, he admitted the decision now lay with the EU, as a result of legislation agreed by parliament, which he again branded “the surrender act”.
He said: “Let’s be clear, this parliament has been sitting now doing absolutely nothing but delay Brexit, pushing it out with delay after delay for three-and-a-half years.
“And I think for MPs across the House to have any credibility about delivering Brexit they now have to commit to an election 12 December. So that’s what we’re pushing for.”
Mr Corbyn has said he will back a general election if the PM removes the threat of a no-deal Brexit.
The Labour leader told ITV: “I’ve said all along – take no deal off the table, and we’ll have the election.”
But many of his MPs oppose a poll, seeing advantage in keeping the PM in political limbo, while also fearing confusion over the party’s stance on Brexit could lose them votes.
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said they wanted an “explicit commitment” a no-deal Brexit was off the table before they would be prepared to back an election.
Indicating they could require further legislation, she told the BBC: “The December day is a ludicrous day. We’ve not had a general election at Christmas for over a century, and there’s good reasons for that.”
Earlier, Chancellor Sajid Javid told Sky News of the need to “put an end to this dysfunctional parliament”.
On holding a December election, Mr Javid said: “It’s highly unusual and not ideal but what’s the alternative.
“If we don’t have this election then we will continue with this zombie parliament.”
Downing Street has also indicated it could effectively “work to rule” if it fails to get an election.
A spokesman for the PM said: “Nothing will come before parliament but the bare minimum.
“We will pursue a general election every day from then onwards and do everything we can to get it.”
Following the meeting of EU ambassadors on Friday, the European Commission’s chief spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said: “The EU 27 have agreed to the principle of an extension and work will now continue in the coming days.”
They are expected to meet again on Monday or Tuesday to finalise an agreement.
The prime minister was forced by parliament to write to Brussels requesting the delay after failing to win backing for the agreement he reached with Brussels at last weekend’s special Saturday sitting.
Many MPs also argue his proposed election timetable, requiring them to approve the withdrawal legislation by 6 November when Parliament would be dissolved, is still not long enough to allow proper scrutiny.