Boris Johnson poised to seek general election after Commons defeat

Twenty-one Conservatives join opposition MPs to take control of parliament agenda

British prime minister Boris Johnson claims an election will be the only way to resolve the impasse over Britain's departure from the European Union if MPs vote to force him to seek a delay to Brexit. Video: UK Parliament TV


Boris Johnson has tabled a motion seeking a general election next month after 21 Conservatives joined opposition MPs to defeat his government in a key vote aimed at blocking a no-deal Brexit. The prime minister said the vote to take over the parliamentary timetable on Wednesday to pass a Bill blocking a no-deal Brexit would hand control of the negotiations to the EU.

“It would mean that the EU themselves would be able to decide how long to keep this country in the EU. And since I refuse to go along with that plan, we are going to have to make a choice.

“I don’t want an election. The public don’t want an election. But if the House votes for this Bill tomorrow, the public will have to choose who goes to Brussels on October 17th to sort this out and take this country forward.”

Under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, Mr Johnson needs a two-thirds majority in the House of Commons to call a snap general election. But Jeremy Corbyn said Labour would not vote for an election before the Bill blocking a no-deal Brexit is passed.

“There is no consent in this House to leave the European Union without a deal. There is no majority for no deal in the country,” Mr Corbyn said.

“As I have said before: if the prime minister has confidence in his Brexit policy – when he has one he can put forward – he should put it before the people in a public vote. And so, he wants to table a motion for a general election, fine get the Bill through first in order to take no deal off the table.”

A few hours before Tuesday night’s ballot, which passed by 328 votes to 301, the British government lost its working majority when former Conservative minister Phillip Lee crossed the floor to join the Liberal Democrats. All 21 Conservatives who voted against the government will lose the whip and be barred from standing as candidates for the party in the next general election.

The rebels included two former chancellors of the exchequer – Philip Hammond and Ken Clarke – and former ministers Rory Stewart, David Gauke, Dominic Grieve, Greg Clark and Justine Greening. Veteran backbencher Nicholas Soames, grandson of Winston Churchill, also voted against the government.

Conservative MP Phillip Hammond arrives at the cabinet office in London, on Tuesday. Photograph: EPA
Conservative MP Phillip Hammond arrives at the cabinet office in London, on Tuesday. Photograph: EPA

Mr Hammond, who less than six months ago was delivering his spring statement as chancellor, said on Tuesday morning he was ready for the “fight of a lifetime” to hold his place in the Conservative party.

“I am going to defend my party against incomers, entryists, who are trying to turn it from a broad church to a narrow faction,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

In a thinly veiled swipe at the prime minister’s chief strategist, Dominic Cummings, who is not a Conservative member, he said: “People who are at the heart of this government, who are probably not even members of the Conservative party, care nothing about the future of the Conservatives and I intend to defend my party against them.”

Anti-Brexit campaigners gather outside the cabinet office on Whitehall in London on Monday. Photograph: Getty Images
Anti-Brexit campaigners gather outside the cabinet office on Whitehall in London on Monday. Photograph: Getty Images

US vice-president Mike Pence expressed support for Mr Johnson following his meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Tuesday. Speaking at a press conference in Farmleigh, Mr Pence said Ireland and the EU should “negotiate in good faith with prime minister Johnson and to work to reach an agreement to respect UK sovereignty and minimise disruption to commerce”.

Mr Johnson and Mr Varadkar will meet in Dublin next Monday and the prime minister said he hoped to discuss how agri-food could continue to be regulated on an all-Ireland basis after Brexit, creating a regulatory barrier down the Irish Sea.

“We recognise that for reasons of geography and economics, agrifood is increasingly managed on a common basis across the island of Ireland. We are ready to find ways forward that recognise this reality, provided it clearly enjoys the consent of all parties and institutions with an interest. We will also be discussing all this with the EU shortly and I will be discussing it with the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, when I see him in Dublin on Monday,” Mr Johnson told MPs. – Additional reporting: Guardian

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