UK PM Boris Johnson loses majority as MP defects to defeat no-deal Brexit
04 September 2019
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday lost a working majority in parliament after Conservative MP Phillip Lee defected to the pro-EU Liberal Democrats thwarting Johnson’s plan to abandon the Brexit deal and pursue a no-deal Brexit that would have unheard of consequences.
A Brexit challenge would have opened the option for the prime minister to call for a snap election on 14 October.
Johnson condemned a plan by lawmakers to block his Brexit strategy as "surrender" and said it would undermine his intention to negotiate a new divorce deal with the EU.
He said the move by opposition MPs and members of his Conservative party to try to delay Brexit beyond 31 October if he cannot agree exit terms with Brussels was like "running up the white flag".
Ahead of a first vote in the House of Commons on Tuesday evening, Johnson said: "There are no circumstances in which I will ever accept anything like it".
His aides had already warned that defeat would force him to call a snap election ahead of a crucial EU summit on 17-18 October - a mere fortnight ahead of Brexit.
The ruling party rebels expect to muster majority with support from opposition Labour Party to force through the plan to delay Brexit to 31 January.
Conservative MP Phillip Lee crossed the floor of the Commons while Johnson was making his statement, to defect to the pro-European Liberal Democrats.
While the prime minister lost a majority in the 650-seat chamber, the defection does not automatically bring down the government. That needs a formal confidence vote.
Simultaneously an Edinburgh court heard a legal challenge against Johnson's decision to suspend parliament next week for more than a month, which critics said was a bid to silence MPs.
The heightened political tension sent the British pound tumbling on Tuesday to its lowest level against the dollar in almost three years.
Johnson, who took office less than six weeks ago, after his predecessor Theresa May was forced out over her failure to get her Brexit divorce deal through parliament, has faced opposition from the start from his own MPs over his threat to leave the EU without an agreement.
Rebel Conservatives, including former finance minister Philip Hammond have joined hands with Labour to make room in the parliamentary agenda for a debate of the bill by putting forward a motion set to be voted on by MPs. If this succeeds, they will introduce their bill and seek to get it through before parliament is suspended next week.
Johnson, who has rejected the present divorce deal, however, insists he wants to reach an agreement with Brussels to ease the end of Britain's 46-year-old EU membership.
EU leaders have refused to reopen the current Brexit deal or abandon it, but Johnson insists that a credible threat to walk away from the European Union will help secure a new deal
But, with no formal negotiations with Brussels, and both sides moving ahead with plans for a disorderly divorce next month, there is little likelihood of a new Brexit deal.
Johnson, meanwhile, said he would meet Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar for the first time in Dublin next week to discuss Brexit.
Opinion polls have given Johnson a boost for his assertive action against parliament over Brexit. And if this trend continues, Johnson expects an early election to give him a majority.
But, to call an election, Johnson would need the support of Labour, as the law requires the backing of two-thirds of MPs.