UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has again failed in his drive to call an early election, as he sought to break the political deadlock over Britain’s departure from the European Union.
A total of 299 MPs on Monday night backed Johnson’s latest bid – his third – but with opposition parties abstaining and 70 MPs voting against, the prime minister did not secure the backing of the two-thirds of the 650 MPs required by law to pass the motion.
An exasperated Johnson in response said the electorate would find the situation “utterly bewildering” and promised to end the “paralysis” over the UK’s departure from the European Union.
“One way or another, we must proceed to an election,” he told MPs.
Johnson said the government would try again, on Tuesday, with a different track of legislation which would only require a simple majority to call a snap election – hopeful that winning such a poll could change the parliamentary arithmetic and allow him to push his Brexit deal through into law.
“It was no surprise that he lost on his third attempt; Labour are refusing to give him the election he wants on his terms,” said Al Jazeera’s Jonah Hull, reporting from Westminster.
Three days that could change everything
Corbyn appeared to offer a warmer response to a poll on December 9, as mooted by the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party, rather than the government’s bid for a December 12 ballot box showdown. The SNP will not support Johnson’s bid for polls on his desired date.
The three-day difference would mean there would be no parliamentary time for Johnson to force his Brexit deal through the legislative process in the coming days. Johnson has said he would not bring the Withdrawal Agreement Bill back for debate having lost this latest bid for an election – but trust is in very short supply in the UK legislature, and the prime minister’s many parliamentary opponents are wary of handing him such a key victory days before any crunch election.
It may not seem like much, but “it is rather crucial”, said Hull in Westminster.
“An election on the 12th allows the government well into next week to try again to push through Johnson’s Brexit deal, and head into an election on the back of a major political victory. The ninth doesn’t allow him to do that. The date on tomorrow’s legislation could be crucial and could be the undoing of the next attempt to get an election bid through Parliament.
“What nobody can be sure of is whether that election, whenever it comes, can result in the sort of majority that could push Brexit forward.”
Labour now find themselves in a difficult position, divided over whether to accept a December 9 election, to push for a second referendum to be added as an amendment to Johnson’s next bill or to continue the stalemate.
“What’s happened here is that the Liberal Democrats and the SNP have realised they can’t wait for Labour and can’t trust them,” Jon Worth, a politics lecturer at the College of Europe in Bruges, told Al Jazeera.
“Both Lib Dems and the SNP would have preferred a second referendum. But Labour has never committed to that fully. So hence this plan has been put into action – a way to a general election without actually needing Labour to support it.
“Yes, all of this could go wrong for Remain parties. But better a roll of the dice on a general election than having to agree Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill and commit to Brexit.”
Corbyn insisted Labour wants a no-deal Brexit to be “definitely and definitively” taken off the table, adding any election plan must ensure the voting rights of “all of our citizens are protected” – referring to students who may be registered to vote at university addresses ending their semesters at around the time in question.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Corbyn said the prime minister “cannot be trusted” and had “abandoned” his Queen’s Speech, Budget and Brexit deal.
The Labour leader added: “He said he would never ask for an extension and he said he would rather die in a ditch – another broken promise.”
After the extension was approved by the European Council on Monday morning, a Downing Street spokesperson told Al Jazeera that Johnson was not considering resigning.
“The prime minister has worked tirelessly to get a Brexit deal – which he did, despite being told it was impossible,” Al Jazeera was told.
“He brought the legislation to Parliament last week, where it was blocked.”
While MPs voted last week to continue consideration of the EU divorce deal, Johnson’s administration had scheduled just three days for debate for more than 100 pages of legislative text and another 400 pages of legal documentation – given the scale of the constitutional implications, it was not a timetable that parliamentarians would accept, and the prime minister paused any progress on the proposed legislation, withdrawing it from discussion.