Tory rebels and opposition MPs have inflicted defeat on Boris Johnson in his first House of Commons vote as prime minister.
MPs voted 328 to 301 to take control of the agenda, meaning they can bring forward a bill seeking to delay the UK's exit date and prevent a no-deal Brexit. The Financial Times says this leaves Johnson’s Brexit strategy “in ruins”.
The bill, tabled by the Labour backbencher Hilary Benn, aims to force Johnson to request an extension to Article 50 if he cannot agree a new deal with Brussels.
Subscribe to The Week
Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.
A total of 21 Tory MPs, including ex-cabinet ministers Philip Hammond and David Gauke, joined opposition parties to defeat the government on a dramatic evening in parliament.
Following what Sky News describes as a “stinging defeat,” Johnson said he would bring forward a motion for an early general election.
Visibly angry, he said he would never request the delay mandated in the rebels’ bill, which he said would “hand control of the negotiations to the EU”.
Instead, he continued, if MPs passed the bill, “the people of this country will have to choose” in a general election next month.
To successfully call an election, the prime minister would need a two-thirds majority under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.
This could be impossible, as Jeremy Corbyn has made clear his party would not vote for the motion unless and until the anti no-deal bill had passed.
Therefore, any attempt today to secure a general election would be expected to fail. However, the government may make a second attempt next Monday.
The BBC explains that “theoretically, there is another way he could achieve his goal”. A new law specifying the date of an early general election would require only a simple majority and not need two-thirds of MPs.
The mathematics took a symbolic step away from Johnson yesterday when he lost his working majority as Tory MP Phillip Lee dramatically defected to the Liberal Democrats. Lee said the prime minister was “pursuing a damaging Brexit in unprincipled ways”, putting lives and livelihoods at risk.
The next stage for the rebels is to try and get the legislation through all its parliamentary stages by the end of the week.
This comes with its own difficulties – particularly in the House of Lords, explains The Guardian, because “scores of Conservative peers are lining up to table wrecking amendments”.
Even if the bill receives royal assent by the end of the week, it is not clear that the government would abide by it. Michael Gove is just one minister to hint that the government could ignore an instruction to extend Brexit.
Another route open to the rebels is a vote of no confidence in the government. If the government lost such a vote, a new government could be appointed and seek a Brexit delay.
Continue reading for free
We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.
Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.