Conservative MPs fear anti-Brexit voters will unite to defeat Boris Johnson in a general election

  • Conservative MPs are urging Boris Johnson to bin his push for a general election this year.
  • The prime minister has told opponents to support his plan for an election on December 12.
  • However, a number of Conservative MPs this week urged government whips to focus on delivering Brexit by getting legislation through Parliament, instead of pushing for a snap election.
  • Many MPs are sceptical about Johnson's chances of winning a majority.
  • They believe that the Conservatives could struggle to offset seats lost to the pro-Remain Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party. 
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Conservative members of Parliament believe a snap general election could badly backfire for Boris Johnson, with an organised coalition of anti-Brexit voters depriving the party of a majority.

The UK Parliament will on Monday decide whether the country should hold a general election on December 12, with the prime minister threatening to pull his Brexit legislation if MPs vote against it.

Downing Street is confident it can secure a majority at the next election by targeting Leave-voting seats in the north of England and Midlands, which are currently held by Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party.

However, significant numbers of Conservative MPs this week urged government whips to focus on delivering Brexit, instead of pushing for a Christmas time election.

One of those MPs told Business Insider that many of their colleagues were "scratching their heads" over the government's threat to shelve the Withdrawal Agreement Bill after it passed its second reading this week.

"We would like to have seen the Withdrawal Agreement passed and on the statute book," they said.

"That's the overwhelming feeling of colleagues."

They added that they believed the British public would be "bemused" if Johnson abandoned his mission to get a Brexit deal through Parliament after managing to get a majority of MPs to support it in principle this week.

"The public is going to find it very odd. All of this is gonna look very difficult for the government," they said.

Another Conservative MP, who represents a seat in Scotland, told Business Insider that their preference, along with their colleagues north of the border, was for Johnson to deliver Brexit before the country went to the polls.

Their warnings come as an influential group of Remainer Tory MPs moved to block Johnson from holding an election.

Up to 20 of the "One Nation" group of moderate Conservative MPs, led by former prime ministers David Lidington and Damian Green, plan to vote against an election, according to a Telegraph report.

At least 41 of One Nation group met with the deputy chief whip Amanda Milling this weekend to say they did not want an election.

There is scepticism among Conservative MPs that the party will return a majority at the next election, despite most opinion polls giving Johnson a comfortable lead over Corbyn's Labour.

In particular, they fear that the government's plan to target Brexit-voting Labour seats would not be enough to offset its losses in Scotland and the south, where many constituencies voted against Brexit in 2016.

An MP who sits as an independent after losing the Conservative whip last month said: "They [Downing Street] believe that Boris is an electoral genius and they'll be able to frame the choice as Corbyn versus Johnson and walk it.

"But they're underestimating the Lib Dems and the number of seats they'll lose in Scotland."

They added: "For them, it all depends on these northern Leave voters — but there just aren't that many [winnable] northern seats.

There just aren't that many [winnable] northern seats... They hate the Tories fundamentally and it will take generations to change - Conservative MP.

"Some of them [seats] are hopeless. They hate the Tories fundamentally and it will take generations for that to change."

Another concern is that Leave voters will punish the party if they have failed to deliver on its promises, especially after Johnson was forced this week to abandon his "do-or-die" pledge to deliver Brexit by October 31.

A former Conservative minister told Business Insider: "They'll jump to the Brexit Party if it's [the election] is before a deal."

Conservatives warn Johnson to expect a Remain backlash

Jo Swinson
Reuters

The Conservative Party is currently on an average of 36% in the opinion polls, with Labour trailing far behind on 24% and the Liberal Democrats on 18%.

While the numbers look good for the Tories, a number of strategic issues could work against them, one of which is tactical voting by Remain voters.

Lib Dem MP Heidi Allen has already launched a cross-party organisation called Unite to Remain which is in talks with pro-Remain parties about work together at the next election. 

The People's Vote campaign, a well-funded campaign group for second referendum, is preparing to launch a tactical voting website of its own, designed to limit the number of pro-Brexit MPs winning seats. Pro-Remain group Best For Britain is developing a similar tool. 

One MP who lost the Conservative whip last month said: "I think the party is in danger of underestimating the impact of tactical voting."

They added: "The typical Westminster view is, well the Conservatives are on 35 or 36 points, Labour is on 24, the Liberals are on 20, so the Conservative party wins, because of a split opposition," the MP said.

"But the problem for the Conservatives is where the Liberals are strong, Labour is very weak. And where Labour is strong, almost invariably the Liberals are very weak. So there is almost a natural opportunity for tactical voting."

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