In Brief

Downing Street ‘preparing for June general election’

Reports claim Theresa May could try to extend Article 50 and secure fresh mandate from the people

Downing Street is secretly drawing up plans to hold a snap general election in June after securing the backing of Parliament for Theresa May’s Brexit withdrawal agreement, according to media reports.

According to Glen Owen and Harry Cole for the Mail on Sunday, Number 10 strategists “have discussed a scenario under which the Prime Minister would delay the Article 50 Brexit process beyond the end of March, win Commons support for her deal in April – and then go to the country in the following weeks on the back of her success”.

The Sunday Times also reports that cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill “has ordered civil servants to plan for a June election to ‘cement’ Theresa May’s position”.

The 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, which would fall on the first Thursday in June, “is one option on the table” says the Mail.

Sky News says “the plan would protect the prime minister from being forced out of office by those who want a new leader to negotiate the second stage of the UK's exit - a new trade deal”.

Downing Street has strenuously denied the reports, with a spokesman telling Reuters they were “100% untrue”.

However, there are other signs that Tory party HQ is moving onto a war footing.

The Conservatives have block-booked printing plants needed to turn out campaign material at short notice, as well as trebling its spending on digital advertising. Javid has claimed that the preparations relate to local elections in May.

Others point to the not-so-subtle attempt to “bribe” Labour MPs in Leave-voting seats with the promise of extra cash for their constituencies. This has been interpreted as a quid-pro-quo arrangement to garner support for May’s deal but it could also serve to try and win over Brexit-supporting voters in key marginals.

Those in Westminster backing a snap vote to secure a fresh mandate from the people will have been further boosted by the latest poll which puts the Tories seven points clear of Labour.

The Opinium survey puts the Tories on 41% – up four percentage points – and Labour down six to 34%. It is the biggest gap between the parties since Theresa May decided to call the 2017 snap election which saw her lose her parliamentary majority.

In another blow to the opposition, public approval of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of the Brexit negotiations had fallen to a new low of 16%.

Despite this, the Labour frontbench continues to demand Theresa May call an early general election.

In a sign of his possible campaign strategy, Corbyn told charities in Glasgow on Friday, that “the people who are bearing the brunt of nine years of austerity cannot wait years for a general election”.

In an interview with The Independent, shadow home secretary Diane Abbott confirmed the party has set aside a war chest to fund a snap general election.

Despite reports of the party facing financial difficulty, she said: “We have a lot of money put to one side in the event of a general election - we are general election-ready.”

Abbott added that shadow cabinet ministers are meeting with civil service chiefs in preparation for a potential Jeremy Corbyn government, while Labour's top team are currently preparing policies for the first 100 days of a Labour government.

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