Cornered UK PM Johnson dares opposition on no-confidence vote

Johnson defends his intention to withdraw from the EU on October 31, but rival MPs say no-deal Brexit will bring chaos.

    The leader of the main opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, said the prime minister is not fit to govern [Jessica Taylor/ UK Parliament via AFP]
    The leader of the main opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, said the prime minister is not fit to govern [Jessica Taylor/ UK Parliament via AFP]

    A defiant British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday brushed off cries of "Resign!" and challenged the opposition MPs to bring a no-confidence motion against his government, a day after the country's top court ruled his decision to suspend parliament unlawful.

    Amid shouts, angry gestures and repeated cries of "Order!" in the House of Commons, Johnson emphatically defended his intention to withdraw the United Kingdom from the European Union on October 31, with or without a separation agreement with the EU.

    "I say it is time to get Brexit done," he declared, accusing his opponents of trying to frustrate the will of the people, who in 2016 voted 52 percent to 48 percent to leave the 28-nation bloc.

    Johnson was greeted with applause from his own Conservative legislators and jeers from the opposition side as he arrived in the Commons, hours after cutting short a trip to the United Nations in New York.

    He flew home early after Britain's Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Tuesday that his attempt to suspend Parliament for five weeks had the effect of stymieing its scrutiny of the government over Brexit. The court declared the suspension void. 

    The leader of the main opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn said the prime minister is not fit to govern and "should have done the honourable thing and resigned" after the ruling. He said Johnson "thinks he is above the law" and has shown "no shred of remorse or humility".

    "Have you no shame, prime minister?" said Ian Blackford, the Scottish National Party's leader in Parliament. Labour legislator Jess Phillips urged Johnson "to act with some humility and contrition".

    Members of Parliament accused him of showing disrespect for the rule of law and deceiving Queen Elizabeth II when he asked for her permission to prorogue or suspend parliament. Over and over, they called on him to say he was sorry.

    But Johnson ignored calls to step down or apologise, showing no sign of contrition during the more than three-hour question-and-answer session. He said the Supreme Court's 11-0 ruling was "wrong" and repeatedly refused to rule out the possibility of suspending parliament again.

    'Humbug'

    The prime minister said a new election is the only way to unblock Britain's "paralysed parliament."

    "I think the people of this country have had enough of it. This parliament must either stand aside and let this government get Brexit done or bring a vote of confidence and finally face the day of reckoning with the voters," he said.

    A no-confidence vote could bring down his government just two months after he took office and lead to a new election. Johnson's demands for an election have already been rejected twice. Opposition legislators and some Conservative rebels have said they will back an election only if a no-deal Brexit is ruled out.

    Al Jazeera's Paul Brennan, reporting from Westminster, said the British prime minister has not changed his approach after the defeat in the highest court of the land. 

    "He is pursuing the same line of bluster - as the opposition leader put it - or conviction if you're a supporter of the prime minister," he said. "There were no major surprises - it's all been fairly typical of what has become a rather untypical period in this country's politics."

    Economists have warned that leaving the EU without a deal could disrupt Britain's trade with the continent, plunge the country into a recession and cause shortages of food and medicine.

    But Britain has been unable to negotiate a separation agreement with the EU that is acceptable to parliament. Johnson said on Wednesday he still hopes to work out a deal but will pull the country out of the EU without an agreement if one is not reached by the deadline.

    Parliament has passed a law requiring Johnson to seek a Brexit extension if there is no deal, but he has said he will not do that under any circumstances. He branded the law the "Surrender Act" and the "Humiliation Bill."

    As Wednesday's session grew more noisy and bitter, several legislators urged Johnson to temper his language, saying Britain's political climate is becoming dangerously overheated. Pro-EU legislators have been branded "traitors" by some Brexit supporters, and police have investigated threats against several members of parliament.

    "The tone of the prime minister's speech was truly shocking," said Green Party legislator Caroline Lucas. "This populist rhetoric is not only unfitting for a prime minister, but it is genuinely, seriously dangerous."

    Labour legislator Paula Sherriff implored the prime minister to stop using "pejorative language." She brought up the killing of Jo Cox, a legislator who was slain a week before the 2016 EU referendum by an attacker shouting, "Death to traitors!"

    Sherriff said many legislators were "subject to death threats and abuse every single day."

    "And let me tell the prime minister that they often quote his words - 'Surrender Act,' 'betrayal,' 'traitor' - and I for one am sick of it," she said. "We must moderate our language, and it has to come from the prime minister first."

    The prime minister was unimpressed.

    "I have to say, Mr Speaker, I've never heard such humbug in all my life," he said.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies