Boris Johnson 'will not resign' to force early election

UK prime minister loses again after former Conservative rebels align with the opposition to delay 'no-deal' Brexit.

    Anti-Brexit protesters will be celebrating on Wednesday after the vote [Henry Nicholls/Reuters]
    Anti-Brexit protesters will be celebrating on Wednesday after the vote [Henry Nicholls/Reuters]

    London, UK - The House of Commons resoundingly voted for a bill that could block a "no-deal" Brexit on October 31 - a move that handed Prime Minister Boris Johnson his second major defeat in as many days.

    MPs approved a bill on Wednesday to delay Brexit by a vote of 327 to 299 after Tuesday's rebellion within the Conservative Party.

    Downing Street insisted Johnson will not resign in order to force a general election to happen in line with the Conservative Party's desired schedule that could block efforts to delay Britain's withdrawal from the European Union.

    Johnson hinted opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn was running scared from the ballot box after the Labour leader made clear he would not back a poll until a no-deal Brexit was taken off the table.

    A "rebel alliance" of 21 MPs - including several political veterans and long-term stalwarts of Conservative administrations - was unceremoniously kicked out of the party after Johnson was defeated in his first Commons vote as prime minister.

    The bill "effectively ends the Brexit negotiations", said Johnson, following the government's defeat.

    It "takes away the right of this country to decide how long it should remain in the EU and hands that power to the EU", he said.

    "The country must now decide whether the leader of the opposition or I go to those negotiations on 17 October." 

    During voting on the bill's second reading, Labour MP Luke Pollard said "a lot" of Tories were in the opposition lobby rebelling against the government, with "one of them in tears".

    Lords delay?

    The bid to delay Brexit will now go to the House of Lords, the UK's upper parliamentary chamber, for approval.

    UK PM to push for new poll if no-deal Brexit is made unlawful

    "It's likely to have a pretty rocky passage in the House of Lords, with Conservative peers trying to delay it as much as possible, preparing more than 80 amendments," said Al Jazeera's Jonah Hull, reporting from London. "But it is likely to make its way through into law."

    Labour's bid to fast-track the bill was like putting "a bomb" under the upper chamber, said Lord Forsythe, a former Conservative cabinet minister. 

    Constitutional law expert Jack Simson Caird said several of the Lords had committed to uphold the vote in the Commons.

    "There are reports of Lords arriving here with duvets and toothbrushes ready to work all night here to frustrate any attempts to filibuster," he told Al Jazeera.

    Speaker John Bercow has ruled the new legislation would not require the approval of Queen Elizabeth II to pass into law.

    "This debate has seen has some emotional scenes," added Hull. "Nicholas Soames, Winston Churchill's grandson, was fighting back tears saying how sad he was that his 36-year parliamentary career as a Tory MP was ending this way, having been sacked by Boris Johnson for joining the rebels on Tuesday night."

    Former cabinet minister Dame Caroline Spelman also rebelled against the government to support the bill on Wednesday, but will reportedly not have the party whip withdrawn.

    Conservative former minister Sir Christopher Chope called the bill "squalid" and told MPs: "It's an affront to parliament, democracy and the people because it enslaves the United Kingdom to the European Union, it relegates us to the status of a colony, it treats the United Kingdom as if we have been vanquished in war by giving the EU power to dictate the terms of our surrender.

    "I despair at the defeatism of so many of my colleagues, and I hope we will fight back and win in a general election, for which I cannot wait."

    The standard of debate on Wednesday was not always conforming to the highest of principles. During the weekly prime minister's questions sessions, Johnson tried to turn up the heat on Corbyn.

    "This was poor stuff from Johnson, replete with some terrible jokes," said Al Jazeera's Laurence Lee, also reporting from London. "He called Jeremy Corbyn a 'chlorinated chicken', said that because he is supportive of Venezuela he must be 'Caracas' - I mean, this isn't even 'dad joke' level."

    UK's Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson clash over no-deal Brexit

    Election upcoming?

    The Conservatives are now seeking a general election ahead of a key European Council summit in mid-October. Johnson and his advisers believe that, if victorious, he would have a mandate to fulfill his pledge to take Britain out of the EU on October 31, deal or no deal, and would be able to repeal any new law stemming from Wednesday's legislation attempting to delay.

    For the past few years, the opposition Labour party has also been seeking a general election. The Liberal Democrats, also enjoying a resurgence in fortunes after being nearly wiped out at the ballot box following a stint in coalition government with the Conservatives, would also like an election. But neither party will support Johnson's call to bring the country to the polls at this time.

    Under legislation brought in under Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, who sparked the Brexit crisis by calling the in/out EU membership referendum in 2016 in a bid to unite the Conservative Party, a bid to call an early election needs the support of two-thirds of parliament.

    "Boris Johnson is not trusted in parliament, and we have to make sure he doesn't try to play any tricks," the Liberal Democrats' deputy leader Ed Davey told Al Jazeera.

    "We want an election for our own partisan purposes," he added. "The reason we want to delay just a few weeks is we don't trust Boris Johnson, and we want to make sure 'no deal' cannot happen. This is not the time yet for a general election - maybe quite soon - but we want to make sure the crash out can't happen.

    "We want to put the national interest ahead of our party interest."

    Johnson's perceived problem with truthfulness persists beyond parliament.

    "Boris has been asked so many times 'What's your plan?' - and he refuses to publish it," said Al Jazeera's Lee. "And so many on the European negotiating side have said there is no plan. So then when he stands up in parliament and says there is a plan, people just think he's a liar."

    Boris Johnson loses parliamentary majority as Brexit crisis bites

    A Downing Street spokesman said the prime minister would not resign to force the country to head to the polls, telling a Westminster briefing: "He's not going to step down. He wants an election. We will find a way to deliver on what the British people want, which is to deliver Brexit by October 31.

    "If the PM cannot get the Bill [to hold an election] through Parliament because Parliament is determined to wreck the negotiations, the only other option then is a general election."

    'Boris is my friend'

    Johnson also received the support of his friend, the president of the United States.

    Donald Trump insisted: "He knows how to win." Trump went on to tell reporters his friend was "going to be okay".

    "Boris is a friend of mine, and he's going at it. There's no question about it," he said.

    "I watched him this morning. He's in there fighting. He knows how to win. Boris knows how to win. Don't worry about him. He's going to be okay."

    As novelist EB White once wrote to a young man in despair: "Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day."

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies