John­son to call for new gen­eral elec­tion

Op­po­si­tion poised to take Brexit agenda from em­bat­tled PM

The Morning Call - - NATION & WORLD - By Dan­ica Kirka and Gre­gory Katz

LONDON — On a day of hu­mil­i­at­ing set­backs, Bri­tish Prime Minister Boris John­son suf­fered a ma­jor de­feat in Par­lia­ment on Tues­day night as re­bel­lious law­mak­ers voted to seize con­trol of the Brexit agenda, prompt­ing the em­bat­tled prime minister to say he would call for a new gen­eral elec­tion.

The 328-301 vote, made pos­si­ble by fel­low Con­ser­va­tives who turned their back on John­son’s pleas, cleared the way for John­son’s op­po­nents to in­tro­duce a bill Wed­nes­day that would seek to pre­vent Bri­tain from leav­ing the Euro­pean Union with­out a deal Oct. 31. It was a mo­men­tous day in Bri­tain’s cen­turies-old Par­lia­ment as the leg­is­la­ture rose up to suc­cess­fully chal­lenge the power of the prime minister and his gov­ern­ment over Brexit pol­icy.

Even if they can force John­son to seek a de­lay to that dead­line, any ex­ten­sion would have to be approved by each of the other 27 EU na­tions.

The cross-party rebels are de­ter­mined to pre­vent a “nodeal” Brexit be­cause of fears it would gravely dam­age the econ­omy and plunge Bri­tain into a pro­longed re­ces­sion while also leading to pos­si­ble medicine and food short­ages.

The vote came hours af­ter John­son suf­fered a key de­fec­tion from his party, cost­ing him his work­ing ma­jor­ity in Par­lia­ment.

On a day of high drama and acer­bic de­bate in the House of Com­mons, law­mak­ers re­turned from their sum­mer re­cess to con­front John­son over his in­sis­tence that the United King­dom leave the EU on Oct. 31, even with­out a with­drawal deal to cush­ion the economic blow. Many shouted, “Re­sign!” and pro­test­ers gath­ered out­side Par­lia­ment to call for Bri­tain to re­main in the EU.

A new gen­eral elec­tion would take Bri­tain’s fu­ture to the peo­ple for a third gen­eral elec­tion in four years. It is not clear he would get the two-thirds ma­jor­ity in Par­lia­ment needed to call a fresh vote be­cause op­po­nents are wary he might post­pone the elec­tion date un­til af­ter Brexit has taken place.

“I don’t want an elec­tion but if MPs vote tomorrow to stop the ne­go­ti­a­tions and to com­pel an­other point­less de­lay of Brexit, po­ten­tially for years, then that will be the only way to re­solve this,” John­son said min­utes af­ter he lost the vote in Par­lia­ment.

Ear­lier Tues­day, two other prom­i­nent Con­ser­va­tives sig­naled their in­ten­tion not to seek re­elec­tion rather than bend to John­son’s will.

For­mer Cab­i­net minister Jus­tine Green­ing and for­mer For­eign Of­fice Minister Alis­tair Burt also sig­naled their in­ten­tion to stand down.

Jeremy Cor­byn, leader of the main op­po­si­tion Labour Party, lam­basted the weak­ened John­son and ac­cused him of “rid­ing roughshod” over the con­sti­tu­tion in or­der to crash Bri­tain out of the EU with­out a deal.

He said he will not agree to a new elec­tion un­til leg­is­la­tion pre­vent­ing a “no-deal” exit is in place.

John­son, who be­came prime minister in July, has tried to crack down on mem­bers of his Con­ser­va­tive Party who op­pose his Brexit plans, warn­ing they would be ex­pelled from the party if they sup­ported par­lia­men­tary ef­forts to block or de­lay the with­drawal.

Do­minic Grieve, who was at­tor­ney gen­eral in David Cameron’s gov­ern­ment, says the ex­pul­sion threats demon­strate John­son’s “ruth­less­ness.”

Green­ing said she feared her beloved party was “mor­ph­ing into Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.”

For­mer Trea­sury chief Philip Ham­mond warned of the “fight of a life­time” if of­fi­cials tried to pre­vent him from run­ning in the next elec­tion.

Ham­mond said he ex­pected a pro­ce­dural mo­tion to take con­trol of business. If it passed, a vote to block a no-deal would be con­sid­ered Wed­nes­day.

Time to block a “no-deal” depar­ture is run­ning short. John­son last week ma­neu­vered to give his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents even less time to block a chaotic no-deal Brexit, get­ting Queen El­iz­a­beth II’s ap­proval to sus­pend Par­lia­ment. His out­raged crit­ics sued, and at­tor­neys ar­gu­ing the case at a court in Scot­land com­pleted sub­mis­sions Tues­day. The judge could rule as soon as Wed­nes­day.

A no-deal Brexit will sever decades of seam­less trade with Europe’s sin­gle mar­ket of 500 mil­lion peo­ple. Econ­o­mists warn of dis­rup­tions in com­merce, and the U.N. trade agency UNCTAD es­ti­mated a no-deal Brexit will re­sult in U.K. ex­port losses of at least $16 bil­lion.

VUDI XHYMSHITI/AP

A pro-Brexit sup­porter holds up a sign near op­po­si­tion pro­test­ers Tues­day at Par­lia­ment Square in London. Crit­ics warn that a no-deal Brexit would dev­as­tate the U.K. econ­omy.

LEAL-OLI­VAS DANIEL/PA WIRE

Law­mak­ers in the House of Com­mons shouted for Boris John­son to re­sign.

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