Johnson fails once more to secure pre-Brexit election

PM pledges in Dublin to strive for deal as British parliament wary of legal compliance

British prime minister Boris Johnson has failed in his latest effort to secure a general election before the United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union on October 31st next.

MPs in the Commons voted this morning by a margin of 293 for, 46 against an early election as tabled by the prime minister, but two-thirds of MPs, 434, had to vote to agree to such an election.

The MPs had already failed to agree on an early election in a vote last week.

When the result became known, speaker of the Commons John Bercow made clear that the result "does not satisfy the requirement" in law to secure the election.


Mr Johnson, rising to speak immediately afterwards, said those opposed to him "want to delay Brexit yet again, handing over to Brussels £250 million a week with no purpose".

“Not only have they refused to choose the way ahead,” he said, they had now done so twice, referring to last week’s vote. The house “resolves only to be irresolute”, he said.

“And so now the house will move to resume on October 14th,” he added, referring to the prorogation of parliament. “This government will press on with negotiating a deal while preparing to leave without one.”

No matter how many devices were employed to stymie his efforts, he went on, “I will strive to get an agreement in the national interest.”

With parliament now being suspended until October 14th, the earliest possible date for an election will be in late November.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn earlier said MPs would not vote to authorise a general election until they saw the prime minister complying with legislation requiring him to seek a three-month delay to Brexit if he failed to secure a withdrawal deal by October 19th.

“The prime minister himself implies he will break the law. No 10 has briefed the prime minister will defy the law. So, until the government has abided by that law, I don’t believe there will be a majority in this house for an election,” Mr Corbyn said.

In Dublin, where he met Taoiseach Leo Varadkar for talks early on Monday, Mr Johnson said a no-deal outcome would be "a failure of statecraft" by the UK and the EU, and pledged to work for a deal.

Irish sources said the two men had a productive meeting though both played down the prospect of a breakthrough. However, Dublin came away from the encounter believing Mr Johnson was serious about securing a deal – but also that he was serious about going through with no-deal if necessary.

Hybrid solution

Downing Street dismissed speculation that Mr Johnson was moving towards accepting a Northern Ireland-only backstop, despite his proposal for an all-island regulatory regime for agri-foods. Mr Johnson favours a hybrid solution for the Border, with regulatory alignment for agri-food and a single electricity market for the island but separate regulatory regimes for everything else with maximum facilitation measures to manage the friction created.

His official spokesman said the prime minister remained committed to removing the backstop from the withdrawal agreement and was not seeking to introduce a time-limit to it.

Mr Varadkar stressed that Ireland was open to a replacement for the backstop but only if it was a similar legal guarantee. He also warned Mr Johnson in forthright terms that, after a no-deal, the EU's priorities – citizens' rights, the financial settlement and the Border – would not change and would have to be addressed before any free trade agreement.

‘A sensible deal’

DUP leader Arlene Foster said she was "encouraged" by Mr Johnson's commitment to a "sensible" Brexit. Ms Foster said she hoped the discussions in Dublin would "lay the foundation for a way forward".

She said the DUP had never been champions of exiting the EU without a deal. “To secure a sensible deal which respects the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom will require pragmatic discussions on all sides,” she said.  “The prime minister has already ruled out a Northern Ireland-only backstop because it would be anti-democratic, unconstitutional and would mean our core industries would be subject to EU rules without any means of changing them.”

John Bercow said on Monday he would stand down as Speaker of the House of Commons on October 31st, the day Britain is due to leave the EU. In a personal statement to MPs, he said his timing would ensure that his successor would be chosen by the current parliament.

Mr Bercow’s announcement came after the Conservatives said they would break with convention by standing a candidate against the speaker in his Buckingham constituency. Relations between the speaker and the government have become poisonous in recent years but MPs from all parties paid tribute to his championing of the rights of parliament during his 10 years in the chair.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is London Editor of The Irish Times

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times

Peter Smyth

Peter Smyth is a digital production journalist at The Irish Times