The U.K. Parliament is set to extend the Brexit deadline once again in defiance of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, throwing the government’s plans into chaos and increasing the likelihood of a general election.
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Lawmakers voted, 328 to 301, to take control of Parliamentary time Wednesday in order to pass legislation to prevent a no-deal Brexit, with several members of Johnson’s own party voting against him.
Johnson has now said he will table a motion to have a general election, to be voted on in Parliament soon. If it passes by a two-third majority, a general election will be held to elect new members of Parliament.
The government’s loss of the crucial vote, dubbed a “showdown” by the British media, is a major blow to the Johnson government’s plans of leaving the European Union by the end of October.
Former Prime Minister Theresa May was forced to request an extension to the previous Brexit deadline of March 31, and subsequently resigned after the deal she had negotiated with EU leaders was voted down three times by lawmakers earlier this year.
Johnson’s Conservative Party lost their majority in Parliament ahead of the vote after lawmaker Phillip Lee defected to the Liberal Democrat Party, which advocates a second referendum and remaining in the EU. In dramatic scenes, Lee “crossed the floor,” physically leaving the Conservative Party to join the opposition on the other side of the chamber. Among the highest profile lawmakers to vote against the government was Nicholas Soames, the grandson of Winston Churchill, who voted against the government with a “heavy heart.”
“I don’t doubt Boris wants to get a deal, but I do not believe he has the means to will the end,” he said. “His demands are unreal and I cannot condone ‘no deal.'”
According to reports in the British media Monday, the government had told members of Johnson’s Conservative party Monday they would be thrown out if they voted in favor of extending the deadline. This could mean Soames, a Conservative member of Parliament since 1983, could face expulsion from the party.
Johnson has repeatedly said he would prefer to leave the EU with a deal, although they were willing to leave without one “do or die.”
Addressing Parliament before the vote, Johnson described the law being put forward as a “white flag,” that would generate more “pointless delay.”
“It would force me to accept any terms offered [by the EU],” Johnson told lawmakers. “It would destroy any chance of negotiations or a new deal. … This country wants this done. They want the referendum respected.”
The government is widely expected to vote for a general election after Tuesday’s defeat, according to the BBC. If it were to do so, the election would likely be held on Oct. 14, the day Parliament is scheduled to return from the historic suspension the Queen approved last week.
Under that schedule, the newly elected government would have less than three weeks to determine the way out of the Brexit conundrum that has dominated British politics for the past three years. It is unclear what impact a general election will have on Parliament’s vote to once again extend the Brexit deadline.
The Johnson government’s highly controversial move to suspend Parliament during the crucial Brexit period appears to have united opposition to Johnson’s Brexit plans. Critics of a no-deal Brexit have long warned that it would have a disastrous impact on the British economy.
Johnson, who helped lead the push to exit the EU in a national referendum three years ago, took over from May in July.
However, in order for a general election to be called, two-thirds of Parliament must vote in favor of it. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has repeatedly called for a general election.
Johnson has appointed a government of mainly Brexit supporters, which has positioned the Conservatives as the party of Brexit in the event of an election.
A general election would likely be chaotic and extremely bitter, and there are no guarantees it would transform the parliamentary arithmetic in favor or against advocates of a no-deal Brexit.