British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves after a cabinet meeting at Downing Street on Wednesday in London, England. (Leon Neal/Getty Images/TNS)

Lawmakers reject Johnson’s election call, block no-deal Brexit

The main opposition Labour Party ordered its 247 lawmakers to abstain.

British lawmakers late Wednesday rejected Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s call for a snap election on Oct. 15 and backed a bill designed to rule out a no-deal Brexit.

Parliament’s elected main house, the Commons, voted 298-56 for Johnson’s motion but he needed the support of two-thirds of the 650 lawmakers for it to pass.

The main opposition Labour Party ordered its 247 lawmakers to abstain in the vote.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he will not support a new election until legislation preventing a no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31 is “off the table, once and for all.”

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson also tweeted that she will not allow Johnson, who does not have a majority in Parliament, to “use an election to sneak through a dangerous no-deal Brexit.”

“The Liberal Democrats will not support an election until Article 50 (Brexit process) has been extended,” Swinson wrote.

The cross-party bill to prevent a no-deal Brexit must now be approved by Parliament’s unelected upper house, the Lords, whose members have tabled some 90 amendments to a business motion in an apparent Conservative bid to delay the legislation.

Johnson said the bill to derail his Brexit plans, which the Commons approved by a vote of 327 to 299, “effectively ends the negotiation” with Brussels and “hands power to the EU.”

The bill 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.

Johnson said the bill was “designed to overturn” the result of the 2016 Brexit referendum, in which 52 percent voted to leave the EU.

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

Johnson insisted on Wednesday that he will take Britain out of the European Union on Oct. 31, with or without a withdrawal deal.

Wednesday’s parliamentary votes were made possible by an emergency motion approved Tuesday night that allowed lawmakers to set the daily agenda 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 in Wednesday’s debate 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.”

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

He 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 told dpa there was “growing frustration among the EU27 that London has not yet come forward with the promised proposal on the backstop.”

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