Boris Johnson’s second attempt to call a snap general election was roundly rejected by British lawmakers on Monday night, in yet another stunning defeat for the Prime Minister.
While publicly claiming not to favor an election, Johnson had hoped a new national poll would break the current impasse in Parliament over Brexit by returning him to power with an outright majority.
But the move suffered a heavy defeat in the House of Commons, with opposition parties showing a united front against it once again. The motion, which needed a majority of two thirds to pass, fell far short of that threshold.
Despite publicly stating that he wanted a general election for two years, opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn led the effort to block Johnson’s request until after Brexit is delayed.
Labour sources told CNN that it would not back a motion that allowed the government to set the timetable of any election.
“I want an election, we’re eager for an election, but as keen as we are we, we are not prepared to inflict the disaster of a no deal on our communities, our jobs, our services, or indeed our rights,” Corbyn said in Parliament Monday night.
A bill stopping a no-deal Brexit achieved royal assent earlier on Monday, but it has remained an open question whether Johnson would obey the law if an election was called before the October 31 deadline.
Slamming Parliament’s decision to “deny the British people their say,” Johnson said his government would “press on with negotiating a deal,” while preparing to leave the European Union without one.
“No matter how many devices this Parliament invents to tie my hands I will strive to get an agreement in the national interest,” Johnson said.
The Prime Minister’s last-ditch effort to secure a vote came just before his government prorogued, or suspended, Parliament for five weeks.
The prorogation until October 14 – a longer period than is usual – has drawn widespread condemnation from UK lawmakers.
Chief among the critics was John Bercow, the long-serving Speaker of House of Commons, who announced Monday that he would step down on October 31, the day the UK is set to leave the EU.
Queen Elizabeth II granted Johnson’s request for the suspension late last month – ostensibly so that the government could reset the parliamentary timetable and launch a new legislative program. But the plan to prorogue Parliament was widely seen as an attempt to limit the time for Johnson’s opponents to prevent a no-deal.
In the weeks since, it has been criticized as “undemocratic” and slapped with several legal challenges, including one from a former UK Prime Minister.
Amid a chaotic Commons debate, Corbyn slammed Johnson for trying to “avoid scrutiny” by shutting down Parliament
“His obfuscations and evasions are being rumbled – both at home and abroad – and that is why he doesn’t answer questions and he is so keen to avoid scrutiny,” Corbyn said.
News of the planned suspension, which will be the longest since World War II, jolted Britain’s fractured opposition parties. Divided on Brexit, they united in their opposition to what they perceived as an all-out assault on British constitutional conventions.
Since the decision, a cross-party alliance of MPs banded together to push through a bill stopping the UK from leaving the EU without a deal. The law will force Johnson to ask Brussels for a Brexit extension until January 2020 if he cannot secure a new agreement at a summit scheduled for mid-October.
In response, Johnson fired 21 rebel MPs who voted with opposition lawmakers in favor of the bill, blowing apart his majority in Parliament.
By calling for a snap election, Johnson was aiming to replace the sacked Conservative lawmakers with a new slate of candidates more aligned with his hard-Brexit views.
“I have accepted the reality that an election is the only way to break the deadlock in the House (of Commons) and to serve the national interest by giving whoever is Prime Minister the strongest possible mandate to negotiate for our country at next month’s European council,” Johnson said Monday as he put forward the motion for a vote.
The PM has said he’d rather be “dead in a ditch” than ask the EU to delay Brexit, and his government seems to be probing ways to bypass the bill forcing him to seek an extension.
It’s also unclear whether the EU would agree to a further delay.
Meeting with Johnson in Dublin earlier on Monday, Ireland’s Taoiseach or prime minister Leo Varadkar said the bloc would need a “good reason” to grant a third delay, adding that most EU countries would “prefer not to have an extension.”
Varadkar warned the UK Prime Minister that – delay or not – the story of Brexit was far from over.
“In my view the story of Brexit won’t end if the UK leaves the EU on the 31st October or 31st of January. There is no such thing as a clean break.”