British Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday braced for another showdown in parliament after a humiliating defeat over his Brexit strategy, with lawmakers to vote on a law aimed at blocking a no-deal departure.
Johnson had said that he would seek an early general election if lawmakers vote against him again, intensifying a dramatic political crisis ahead of the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline.
Johnson has vowed to take Britain out of the EU on Oct. 31 regardless of whether a divorce deal with Brussels is in place, more than three years after the referendum vote to leave the EU.
However, his opponents warn that a no-deal Brexit would have disastrous economic consequences and must be avoided.
In a sign of the government’s determination, British Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid was yesterday to unveil another ￡2 billion (US$2.4 billion) of funding to deal with Brexit, including for new port infrastructure.
However, Johnson’s Conservative government is in disarray.
It on Tuesday lost its working majority in parliament after one of its lawmakers switched to the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats and, a few hours later, it expelled 21 lawmakers from the party for voting against the government.
“Humiliation for Johnson as Tory rebels turn against him,” read the front page of the left-wing Guardian newspaper, while the Independent wrote: “Johnson loses control.”
However, the strongly euroskeptic Daily Express said that rebel lawmakers had voted “to betray Brexit” and called Tuesday’s vote “another shameful day in our so-called democracy.”
The rebels included Conservative Party grandees such as Ken Clarke, the longest-serving member of parliament, and Nicholas Soames, former British prime minister Winston Churchill’s grandson.
They joined with opposition lawmakers to inflict a first blow against Johnson’s hardline Brexit strategy.
That opened the way for a vote yesterday on a law which would force Johnson to delay Brexit by three months if he does not strike a deal with the EU by Oct. 19. Voting on the law was scheduled to finish by about 6pm.
After a lengthy and heated session of parliament, Johnson said that the proposed legislation would undermine his discussions with Brussels on a new divorce deal and would cause “more dither, more delay and more confusion.”
However, Johnson’s critics have said his claim that he wants a new deal with Brussels is a sham and that the EU has said Britain is yet to come forward with “any concrete proposals.”
“I don’t want an election, but if MPs [members of parliament] vote tomorrow to stop the negotiations and to compel another pointless delay of Brexit, potentially for years, then that will be the only way to resolve this,” Johnson said on Tuesday.
Aides have previously said that any poll would be held before a crucial EU summit on Oct. 17 and 18.
Under British election law, a two-thirds parliamentary majority is required to hold an early election, meaning that the main opposition Labour Party must support it.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Tuesday said that he was in favor of an election, but only once the legislation was passed “in order to take no-deal off the table.”
The decision on whether to extend the Oct. 31 deadline has to be taken by all 28 EU leaders unanimously.
Johnson last week caused widespread anger among lawmakers with his decision to drastically reduce the number of days they would be able to meet before the Brexit deadline in what was seen as a move to try to curb his opponents.
A judge was later yesterday to issue a ruling on the decision in one of three ongoing legal challenges.
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