Brexit: Boris Johnson’s second attempt to trigger election fails
MPs have again rejected Boris Johnson’s calls for a snap election, as the five-week suspension of Parliament begins.
In all, 293 MPs voted for the prime minister’s motion for an early poll, far short of the number needed.
Earlier, opposition MPs confirmed they would not support an October poll, insisting a law blocking a no-deal Brexit must be implemented first.
Parliament was officially suspended – or prorogued – just before 02:00 BST on Tuesday and will reopen on 14 October.
A group of Labour backbenchers protested against the move, appearing to try to block Speaker John Bercow amid raucous scenes in the House of Commons.
Signs saying “silenced” were held up by the group in front of Mr Bercow – who earlier announced his resignation – just as he was due to lead MPs in a procession to the House of Lords to mark the suspension of Parliament.
In a hectic day of political developments:
- The prime minister suffered another defeat, as MPs backed calls for the publication of government communications relating to the suspension of Parliament and its no-deal plans;
- Mr Johnson was warned he could face legal action for flouting the law blocking no deal;
- MPs approved, without a vote, a motion from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn demanding the government abide by the rule of law.
‘Strive to get an agreement’
At present, UK law states that the country will leave the EU on 31 October, regardless of whether a withdrawal deal has been agreed with Brussels or not.
But new legislation, which was granted royal assent on Monday, changes that, and will force the PM to seek a delay to 31 January 2020 unless a deal – or a no-deal exit – is approved by MPs by 19 October.
BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said although No 10 insisted it was not looking to break the new law, efforts were under way to examine ways of getting around it.
- Why are MPs being sent home?
- Could a no-deal Brexit still happen on 31 October?
- Boris Johnson and the border blocking Brexit
The prime minister said the government would use the time Parliament was suspended to press on with negotiating a deal with the EU, while “preparing to leave without one”.
“No matter how many devices this Parliament invents to tie my hands, I will strive to get an agreement in the national interest,” he said.
“This government will not delay Brexit any further.”
But he was warned that ignoring the new law could prompt a legal challenge while ministers called it “lousy” and said they would “test to the limit” what it required of them.
Mr Johnson told MPs that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had previously said he would back an election if legislation to prevent the government from forcing through a no-deal Brexit on 31 October became law.
“By his own logic, he must now back an election.”
But Mr Corbyn told MPs that Labour was “eager for an election – but as keen as we are, we are not prepared to risk inflicting the disaster of no-deal on our communities, our jobs, our services, or indeed our rights”.
And he said the prime minister was suspending Parliament to avoid discussions of his plans.
Labour, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, the Independent Group for Change and Plaid Cymru met on Monday morning and agreed not to back the motion for an election.
The prime minister’s self-imposed Halloween Brexit deadline looks further out of reach than a few short days ago.
Is it impossible? Absolutely not.
There is the possibility, still, of a deal, with Number 10 today stressing it was still their primary aim.
Whispers again about a Northern Ireland only backstop, and a bigger role for the Stormont assembly, if it ever gets up and running, are doing the rounds.
Some MPs and some diplomats are more cheerful tonight about the possibilities of it working out.
If you squint, you can see the chance of an agreement being wrapped up at pace, although it seems the chances range somewhere between slim and negligible.
MPs backed calls, by 311 votes to 302, for the publication of government communications relating to the suspension of Parliament and no-deal Brexit plans, known as Operation Yellowhammer.
Former Conservative Dominic Grieve, the newly independent MP who tabled the motion, told MPs it was “entirely reasonable” to ask for the disclosure “so the House can understand the risks involved and this can be communicated more widely to the public”.
But minister Michael Gove, who is in charge of no-deal preparations, said he had given evidence to the EU select committee on Yellowhammer and he hoped “those assurances were sufficient”.
Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, meanwhile, questioned the legal right of the government to require employees – including the PM’s top aide Dominic Cummings – to open up their private email accounts and personal mobiles to scrutiny.
After the vote, a government spokesman said it would “consider the implications and respond in due course”.
Parliament’s suspension means MPs will not get another chance to vote for an early election until they return, meaning a poll would not be possible until November at the earliest.
Earlier on Monday, Mr Johnson held talks with Leo Varadkar in Dublin on Monday morning – his first meeting with the Irish prime minister since he entered No 10.
The Irish border has proved a key sticking point in attempts to agree a Brexit deal between the UK and the EU.
Mr Johnson told Mr Varadkar that a no-deal Brexit would represent “a failure of statecraft” for both the British and Irish governments.