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Ponsonby: Extraordinary night in the struggle for power

The Westminster air is thick with recrimination and bitterness, writes our special correspondent.

Boris Johnson leaves Westminster after losing his election motion. <strong> Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images</strong>
Boris Johnson leaves Westminster after losing his election motion. Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

In an extraordinary week high on political brinkmanship, the UK Government and opposition are locked in a monumental struggle for control of the narrative against which a general election will be fought.

A reminder of the timeline in this story of political tit-for-tat.

Boris Johnson decides to suspend parliament in an attempt to limit scrutiny of a no-deal Brexit, making an exit from the EU on October 31 almost unavoidable.

Enraged parliamentarians then pass a law requiring him to seek an extension to the exit date to avoid no deal.

In an effort to neuter that move, Mr Johnson proposes a general election for the October 15 in the hope he wins at the polls and can then kick the new law into touch. But the opposition, determined that they and not the government should call the shots, vote the proposal down.

Last night, therefore, saw the extraordinary situation where the government, by calling for an election, expressed no confidence in its ability to govern but it is nevertheless being kept in power a little longer by opponents who have been calling for an election for months.

The men in white coats did not arrive in SW1 to cart them all away for examination. The shenanigans are easy to explain.

The opposition want to vote for an election but only when they judge Mr Johnson is at his weakest. They want to be seen to be controlling the narrative rather than following one authored in Downing Street.

Critically, they want to see the law requiring an extension of the Brexit process on the statute book before they go back to their constituencies for the mother of all battles.

The Westminster air is thick with recrimination and bitterness. The palace of Westminster currently incubates an intolerance without equal in recent time.

When the election comes and come it will, it looks set to be the most intolerant in living memory. And if the new Commons arithmetic reflects the remain/leave divide in the UK as a whole then an election designed to drag the body politic from the current swamp may yet end up burying it all together.

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