IT was all change outside Parliament yesterday. “Stop the coup! Stop the coup!”, the cry of anti-Government activists, suddenly turned into “Stop the election! Stop the election!”. The blond squatter in Number 10, who’s been accused of being a pound shop dictator, had inconveniently invited the Opposition parties to let the people have their say in a General Election.

Oh no! We’re not falling for that trick – no way Jose. Asking for an election was just Boris Johnson trying to use democracy to get off the hook, said Labour and the LibDems.

Jeremy Corbyn may have spent the last two years demanding “a General Election now”, but he didn’t actually mean “now”, according to Labour’s Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, Tony Lloyd, on Newsnight. He meant: “only when the Opposition parties choose it”. They want to stop No Deal first by mandating the Government to ask for an extension of Article 50.

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Now, the original objection to the election, as with the prorogation, was the threat that Mr Johnson might cunningly schedule the campaign to last beyond Brexit day, on October 31, thus forcing the UK out when Parliament is not sitting. That would have been outrageous. But even the offer of an election on October 14 – two and a half weeks before Britain is set to leave – seems to be unacceptable to Labour or the Tory rebels. Or at least most of them. There were many contradictory statements yesterday, as Parliament went into meltdown.

You can understand why many Labour MPs might want to delay an election. A lot of them would lose their seats for a start. Mr Corbyn is thought to be a closet Brexiter, so maybe he doesn’t want to risk the possibility that Labour might actually win, leaving him with the poisoned chalice of Brexit.

All Opposition MPs relish the prospect of Mr Johnson, who said he would leave the EU on October 31 “do or die”, being forced to go cap in hand to Brussels to ask for yet another extension to Article 50, as ordered by the Extension Bill. But if the Tory rebels stay strong today, and the bill becomes law, could Parliament really order the Prime Minister to do something he has repeatedly promised not to do?

Outside Downing Street on Monday, Mr Johnson said there were “no circumstances” in which he would ask Brussels for a delay. But it would be the law of the land, chorus MPs and commentators. He would just have to do what he’s told by Parliament. But it isn’t quite as easy as that. You can take the PM to water, but can you make him drink?

He could refuse to give the Extension Bill what is called “Queen’s Consent”, because it interferes with royal prerogative – the right of governments to conduct foreign affairs, and sign treaties. This has been used by Prime Ministers before, Labour included.

The similar Cooper-Letwin Bill, last March, didn’t require Queen’s Consent because Theresa May accepted it. Indeed, she went ahead and requested the extension of Article 50 before the bill had finished going through Parliament. She wanted an extension to avoid no deal. Mr Johnson doesn’t, so he could refuse to let it become law.

Alternatively, he might just note the Extension Act, and then notify Brussels that, if the EU 27 agree to an extension, he will not cooperate. He could just empty-chair the whole process, as he did the TV debates during his leadership election. Or he could attach unacceptable conditions over budget contributions. The European Union does not negotiate with individual MPs or with parliaments – it negotiates with the governments of member states. Would the 27 EU countries agree to extend British membership under such a recalcitrant, delinquent PM?

Mr Johnson would argue that the constitution is on his side. If the Commons keeps him in office, and by not supporting a confidence motion, it would be reaffirming him as the Prime Minister, then he has to act according to Government policies. This would be an absurd situation of course. A demeaning spectacle.

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In times past, when a PM lost on a key plank of government policy, he or she would simply resign and call an election. This was what James Callaghan did after he was defeated in 1979. But because of the Fixed Term Parliament Act – passed by the Cameron coalition in 2010 without thinking through the consequences – the Prime Minister cannot actually call an election. Mr Johnson has to win a two-thirds majority in the Commons.

Labour appears to be saying that it would vote to keep him, pro tem. It wants the Extension Bill to be law before there is an election, to prevent Britain crashing out of the EU at the end of October. But the idea of a Prime Minister being forced to act, as it were, by an alternative government based in Parliament, is not something our constitution can handle. The Westminster system is based on the assumption that if a government has no majority for its actions, it ceases to be; it is a dead parrot. The Fixed Term Act allows the Opposition parties effectively to hold the Prime Minister hostage.

The matter will probably end up in the courts. Remain groups already have their legal teams working against the prorogation and will roll that into an action claiming that the government is acting unlawfully. Willy nilly, democracy is moving from Parliament to the judges benches. I’m not sure this is a good thing.

Whatever happens this week, there will have to be an election soon. It could destroy both the main parties. Indeed, after ex-Chancellor Philip Hammond’s claim that the Tory Party is being taken over by “entryists” it’s questionable whether the Conservative Party still exists. Conservative MPs are crossing the floor, like Phillip Lee, or leaving like Justine Greening.

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Labour isn’t in much better shape. It is hopelessly confused over Brexit, still apparently committed to negotiating another deal with Brussels before putting it to a referendum. In Scotland the party is facing virtual extinction.

Perhaps that’s why the prospect of a General Election before Brexit Day has become somewhat unattractive. As Oscar Wilde said, there’s only one thing worse than not getting what you want; that’s getting it.