Energy minister Kwasi Kwarteng claims Jeremy Corbyn is being influenced by “difficult” polling for Labour.
Boris Johnson will “keep asking” for a general election if Labour play “fast and loose” over going to the polls, a government minister has claimed.
The prime minister will make a third attempt on Monday to get MPs to support an early election – this time on 12 December – having failed twice last month to get the House of Commons to back him.
However, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has maintained his position that he will only agree with Mr Johnson’s call for an election if the possibility of a no-deal Brexit is “off the table”.
Under law, the prime minister needs two-thirds of all 650 MPs to vote in support of an early election being held, if the UK public is to be asked to go to the polls before May 2022.
With the potential for Mr Johnson to be defeated in his call for an election for a third time on Monday, energy minister Kwasi Kwarteng claimed – even if he loses – “we’re going to keep asking this question”.
He added: “Jeremy Corbyn has said consistently over the last two-and-a-half years, for most of that time his position was that he wanted an election.
“In fact, after the election in 2017, he said that he would be prime minister by Christmas.
“He’s always been campaigning for an election and it seems odd that he’s now saying he doesn’t want an election.
“So we’ll keep asking him that question – let’s have an election, let’s get a new parliament which can take us forward in a way this parliament hasn’t.”
Accusing Labour of “playing fast and loose” on the issue of an election, Mr Kwarteng suggested Mr Corbyn was being influenced by “difficult” polling for his party.
He said: “There is a genuine fear on the Labour side that if there were a general election, they might not do very well.
“That’s not a principled objection to a general election.”
Mr Johnson has reluctantly asked the EU for a delay to Brexit – despite his “do or die” pledge to take the UK out of the EU on 31 October – after MPs opposed his planned three-day timetable for considering legislation linked to his EU withdrawal agreement.
The bloc will now decide – likely on Tuesday – whether to accept the prime minister’s request for a three-month extension to the Article 50 negotiating period, with Mr Kwarteng wanting “the shortest possible extension” or “no extension at all”.
“If we don’t leave on 31 October, I’d be sad about that,” he said.
Latvia’s foreign minister, Edgars Rinkevics, said on Saturday: “There has been unanimous agreement that we need to extend the Brexit discussion.
“There is a big discussion of what is the best deadline, and I wouldn’t make drama out of it.”
The DUP, who are fiercely opposed to Mr Johnson’s Brexit deal, voted against his timetable for putting the agreement into UK law to help deliver the prime minister’s latest House of Commons defeat.
The Northern Ireland party’s chief whip, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, told Sky News their 10 MPs had “stopped this deal in its tracks”, adding: “Our votes have been crucial in the House of Commons and we will continue to use our votes to try and get the changes that we need to this deal.”
The DUP, who entered a confidence and supply agreement with the Tories in 2017, will decide this weekend whether or not to support Mr Johnson’s bid for an early election.
Sir Jeffrey said: “Our focus right now is on this deal, I don’t think a general election will change the nature of the deal which is unacceptable in its current form to us – because it separates Northern Ireland from our biggest market, in Great Britain.
“If the prime minister wants an election – so be it – that’s not a concern for us.
“We’re happy to go to the people and present our case, but that won’t resolve the issues that need to be addressed.”
Meanwhile, former prime minister Tony Blair put pressure on Mr Corbyn not to agree to an election until there is a commitment that the UK will not leave the Brexit transition period, in December 2020, without a future trade deal with the EU.
The ex-Labour leader posted on Twitter: “To take no deal off the table, it has to be taken off not only in respect of the withdrawal negotiation but also of the subsequent negotiation around the future relationship due to finish by end 2020.
“Mere extension of the timetable to January 2020 doesn’t do it. And in a general election fought before parliament ensures it can’t happen by legislating against it, no deal will clearly be on the table as a possible future relationship negotiation outcome.
“This is why Labour must not agree to this election ploy until the situation is clarified and dealt with.”
Mr Corbyn will tell a rally in Inverclyde tonight: “We have a once-in-a-generation chance to deliver the real change that our country needs.
“Only a Labour government can stop Boris Johnson, kick the Tories who think they are born to rule out of Downing Street, and deliver a public vote that will let the people decide on Brexit.”