U.K. lawmakers again reject Boris Johnson's request for snap election

British lawmakers have rejected U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson's request for an election before the country's scheduled departure from the European Union next month.

Parliament now suspended until Oct. 14

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, right, is welcomed by Ireland's Prime Minister Leo Varadkar at Government Buildings in Dublin on Monday. Johnson met with Varadkar in search of a compromise on the simmering Brexit crisis. (Niall Carson/PA via AP)

British lawmakers have rejected Prime Minister Boris Johnson's second request for an election before the country's scheduled departure from the European Union next month.

A total of 293 of the 650 House of Commons members backed the proposal, well short of the two-thirds majority needed. Opposition lawmakers voted against the measure or abstained.

The U.K. government has now suspended Parliament until Oct. 14, little more than two weeks before Oct. 31 Brexit deadline.

On Sept. 4, the House of Commons denied Johnson's first attempt to force an early election on Oct. 15. He also failed to gain the required two-thirds majority at this vote.

Johnson wants a snap election Oct. 15. But opposition parties say they won't support an election until Britain has secured a delay to the Brexit date, to ensure the country does not crash out of the bloc without a deal.

Parliament has ordered the government to seek an extension if there is no deal by late October, but Johnson is vowing not to seek a delay.

Lawmakers also voted Monday to demand the government publish documents relating to its planning for a no-deal Brexit and private communications from government officials involved in a decision to suspend Parliament.

The 311 to 302 vote is binding on the government, but had been opposed by ministers who said there were concerns about the scope of the documents requested, and that they had been sufficiently transparent on the subject.

Late last month, the Queen granted Johnson's request to suspend Parliament amid a growing crisis over Brexit.

Johnson had previously said he would send British politicians home sometime this week. The suspension limits Parliament's ability to block his plans for Brexit.

Johnson said the United Kingdom must leave the European Union on Oct. 31, with or without a divorce agreement. Politicians are trying to stop a no-deal Brexit, and some have branded the suspension a "coup."

Earlier Monday, Johnson voiced optimism that a new Brexit deal can be reached so the U.K. leaves the EU by the end of October.

Speaking alongside Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in Dublin, Johnson said a deal on the Irish border question can be secured in time to enable a smooth U.K. departure from the EU by the scheduled Brexit date.

He said a "no-deal" departure from the EU would represent a "failure of statecraft," and all sides would bear a responsibility for that.

Varadkar also said ahead of a meeting with Johnson that Britain has not produced any realistic alternatives to the controversial "backstop" agreement reached by Johnson's predecessor, Theresa May.

Opposition to the backstop was a key reason Parliament rejected May's Brexit deal with the EU on three occasions earlier this year.

The backstop is intended to ensure no hard border is put up between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K.

Economic concerns

Varadkar said a no-deal departure would cause severe economic problems for Ireland now that border checks have been eliminated for an extended period of time.

The Irish leader said more negotiations are needed and that the Good Friday peace agreement, which states that no hard border is reimposed on the island of Ireland, must be respected.

The Dublin meeting marks the first time the two leaders have met since Johnson took power in July.

Varadkar has said he doesn't expect a breakthrough in the impasse over how the Irish border will be handled once Britain leaves the EU.

Johnson plans to press a rebellious Parliament later Monday, before Parliament's closure, to back his plan for an early election, but opposition parties have said they will vote the measure down. They want to make sure a no-deal departure is blocked before agreeing to an election.

A new bill that aims to force Johnson to seek a Brexit delay before the Oct. 31 deadline became law on Monday, receiving royal assent from Queen Elizabeth.

Johnson has said he will not seek a delay. His government is studying the bill for possible loopholes that might allow a legal challenge.

Speaker to quit

In a related development, House of Commons Speaker John Bercow said he will step down by the end of next month after a decade in the job.

The colourful Speaker, famous for his bellowing cries of "Order!" during raucous debates, told lawmakers he will quit the same day Britain is due to leave the EU, unless an election is called before then. In that case, he will step down ahead of the campaign.

He said he will quit both as Speaker and as a member of Parliament.

U.K. Speaker of the House John Bercow gestures in this screen grab taken from video last March as the results of a vote on the Brexit deal were announced in Parliament. (Reuters)

Throughout the three years since Britain voted to leave the EU, Bercow has angered the Conservative government by repeatedly allowing lawmakers to seize control of Parliament's agenda to steer the course of Brexit. 
He said he was simply fulfilling his role of letting Parliament have its say. Bercow said he had always "sought to be the backbenchers' backstop."

With files from Reuters


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