Johnson loses second vote on bill to block no-deal Brexit

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks at a reception at 10 Downing Street, London, on Tuesday. Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Wire/Abaca Press

LONDON — Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson has lost a second vote in Britain’s Parliament on a cross-party effort to prevent a no-deal Brexit, potentially derailing his plan to withdraw Britain from the European Union on Oct. 31.

Parliament’s elected main house, the Commons, voted by 329-300 on Wednesday for a bill that enables urgent legislation requiring Johnson to ask the EU for a Brexit delay until Jan. 31, unless Parliament approves a new deal or votes in favor of a no-deal Brexit by Oct. 19.

Another vote on the bill is scheduled later Wednesday and, if passed, Johnson is expected to call for a snap election on Oct. 15. A separate vote on that motion is also expected Wednesday night.

“Today is the last chance to prevent no deal and we need to seize it,” Keir Starmer, Brexit spokesman for the main opposition Labour Party, said during the debate.

Johnson has vowed to take Britain out of the European Union on Oct. 31, with or without a withdrawal deal with the EU, but a cross-party group of lawmakers have united to take control of the parliamentary process and legislate against a no-deal outcome.

Wednesday’s votes were made possible by an emergency motion approved Tuesday night that allowed lawmakers to set Parliament’s agenda for Wednesday instead of the government.

The prime minister’s party suspended 21 Conservatives who backed that effort on Tuesday, in what one member of the rebel group, former Chancellor Philip Hammond, called a “mass purge.”

Hammond told Parliament on Wednesday that preventing Britain leaving the EU without a deal was necessary because “there is no mandate for a no-deal Brexit and a no-deal Brexit will be a catastrophe.”

“Many of us now sitting on the back benches have seen the detailed analysis from inside government of the damaging impact of a no-deal Brexit,” Hammond said.

Another censured Conservative rebel, Nicholas Soames, again backed the bill on Wednesday, saying he expected to step down as a member of Parliament, after 37 years, before the next election.

“I am truly sad that it should end in this way,” said Soames, the grandson of Conservative wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Ahead of the debate on the bill, Johnson warned that the bill to block a no-deal Brexit would “undermine this country’s ability to negotiate” with the European Union.

Johnson, in his first appearance at prime minister’s questions since taking office in late July, said he still aimed to negotiate a new Brexit deal before a European Council summit on Oct. 17.

Johnson said he remains confident that EU leaders will agree to remove a controversial “backstop” provision from Britain’s EU withdrawal agreement, which is designed to guarantee an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit.

But in Brussels, an EU diplomat said there was “growing frustration among the EU27 that London has not yet come forward with the promised proposal on the backstop.”

“If the U.K. wants a meaningful discussion, it needs to move quickly since time is running out to prevent a no-deal,” the diplomat told dpa on condition of anonymity.

Johnson also urged opposition lawmakers to back his plan for an election. The prime minister needs the backing of two-thirds of lawmakers for an election to go ahead, but Labour and other opposition parties have said they are unlikely to support it until their planned legislation to prevent a no-deal Brexit becomes law.

If he fails to secure backing for an election on Wednesday, Johnson could return to his earlier plan, announced last week, to suspend Parliament from mid-September until mid-October.

Tribune Wire

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