ELECTION fever was gripping Westminster, so much so that when the lectern was placed outside the famous black door of No 10 there seemed little doubt that Boris Johnson was going to announce a snap election. But he didn’t. Not yet anyway.

As protesters gathered outside the gates, chanting their displeasure loudly, the Prime Minister set out his spending plans for the “people’s priorities” on schools, hospitals and tackling crime.

He insisted the chances of a deal were rising and he decried the Tory rebels for contemplating joining Jeremy Corbyn to achieve “yet another pointless delay” and “chop the legs from under the UK’s position”.

Mr Johnson argued such a move would make the UK’s negotiating position absolutely impossible. A Government official later would go further and say it would “destroy” it.

The PM then came to his key point, declaring: “I want everyone to know there are no circumstances that I will ask Brussels to delay. We are leaving on October 31; no ifs no buts. We will not accept any attempt to go back on our promises or scrub that referendum.”

As the nation hung on his words, the announcement of a snap poll never came.

But hold on. It was later made clear by an unnamed senior official that if the so-called Rebel Alliance got its way, then the Government would table a motion for Wednesday to call a quick election for Monday October 14.

So the battle-lines are drawn.

As soon as MPs get back on the green benches on Tuesday, there will be a bid by opposition MPs to take control of the Commons agenda to force through a law to scrap the October 31 Brexit Day and, with the EU’s help, push it back to January 2020.

Opposition leaders are confident John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, outraged by the Prime Minister’s move to prorogue Parliament, will be helpful and scrap convention, allowing an emergency debate to facilitate a key vote, whereby MPs take control of the Order Paper on Wednesday. The vote could come Tuesday evening.

Amid an increasingly acrimonious atmosphere in SW1, Mr Johnson has warned Tory rebels that if they defy the Government whip and vote with the likes of Corbyn, Blackford and Swinson, they will be kicked out of the party.

It is estimated there are 20 or so potential rebels ready to defy their leader and become Independent Conservatives, including such high profile figures as Philip Hammond, Dominic Grieve, David Gauke and Rory Stewart.

No 10 was making clear a defeat for the Government would be an expression of no-confidence in the Government and its negotiating position.

But victory would allow the talks to continue with the chance of a better deal at the October 17 European Council.

Minds are, therefore, being concentrated.

The PM’s concern all along is that Brussels would not seriously engage in the talks towards a new deal if it thought there was a chance MPs could delay or even block Brexit. A Commons defeat for Mr Johnson and his colleagues would, therefore, place them in an invidious position.

The October 31 “do or die” mantra would become, to Brexiteer ears, another false promise just like Theresa May made about March 29. Nigel Farage would have a field day.

It is clear, therefore, Mr Johnson has no intention of shuffling off to Brussels, cap in hand, to ask for yet another delay. “Trust me, it is not going to happen,” declared the official.

Of course, it had been thought the PM would seek an election after Brexit Day ie November 1. So, he could say to voters: “By the time your vote is counted, we will be out.” It would nullify the Farage threat and all those Brexit Party supporters would shift en masse to the Tories.

But it appears the thinking now is: there can be no delay. So, Mr Johnson could be back behind the Downing St lectern later this week, announcing that snap election and insisting he will seek a fresh mandate to push his Brexit strategy through.

To get his two-thirds parliamentary majority to call an early election, the PM will have to get opposition parties on side and, to that end, he will have to call a poll before Brexit Day. A victory on October 14 would mean Mr Johnson could attend the European Council three days later demanding a new, improved deal from the EU27.

Having said how they want an early election, is it likely Mr Corbyn or Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, will order their troops not to back one in such circumstances?

But what an election it would be. The normal tribal loyalties would be thrown up in the air as the election would all be about Brexit with the electorate splitting between Leave and Remain.

The Lib Dems would target southern England to take votes from the Tories. If Labour drops its equivocal position and comes out fully for Remain, then the Brexit Party will target its traditional seats in northern England.

As for Scotland, Labour look set to collapse as Remainers would back the SNP and the Lib Dems, depending on their view of the Union, and Leavers would back the Tories.

Another poll would be the third general election in five years; the fifth poll in six, counting the two referendums. Will anybody have the courage to gently tell Brenda from Bristol?