U.K. Parliament rejects Boris Johnson's early election bid
PM says he'll try again to call an election to break Brexit deadlock
Monday's key moments:
- U.K. PM Boris Johnson lost his third bid for a general election.
- Lawmakers voted 299-70 against, falling short of two-thirds majority needed.
- Johnson says he'll try again for a December election, bringing forward a bill.
- Earlier in the day, the EU agreed to delay Brexit three months until Jan. 31.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson failed to get enough votes in the House of Commons to pass a motion that would have triggered an early election on Dec. 12 in a bid to break the political deadlock over Brexit.
Lawmakers voted 299-70 Monday against his motion. That fell well short of the two-thirds majority of all 650 lawmakers that Johnson needed. It was Johnson's third attempt to get an early election.
Still, an election appears inevitable well before the next scheduled one in 2022 if the U.K. is to move on from the stasis caused by a prime minister who vowed to deliver Brexit "do or die" and a Parliament that has repeatedly thwarted him.
Johnson said he would try again Tuesday to call an early election, using a different procedure: a bill, which unlike Monday's motions, only needs a simple majority to pass.
"We will not allow this paralysis to continue, and one way or another we must proceed straight to an election," Johnson said.
Earlier, he had accused his opponents of betraying voters' decision to leave the EU by thwarting the government's Brexit plans.
He said that unless there was an election, the government would be "like Charlie Brown, endlessly running up to kick the ball only to have Parliament whisk it away."
"We cannot continue with this endless delay."
Opposition parties didn't reject the bill immediately, but said they would look at it before deciding whether to back it.
However, earlier Monday Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said that the party would carefully consider any legislation which would lock in an early election date.
Corbyn told Parliament, "When no deal is off the table, when the date for an election can be fixed in law and when we can ensure students are not being disenfranchised, we will back an election."
The Scottish National Party and Liberal Democrats say they will support a law to hold an early election under certain conditions, including a no-deal Brexit being ruled out. The two parties have proposed Dec. 9, in part due to concern university students may have gone home for the Christmas holidays.
Even if there is an early election, it could produce a Parliament as divided over Brexit as the current one. All the political parties in the U.K. are worried about a backlash from grumpy voters asked to go to the polls at the darkest, coldest time of the year. The U.K. has not had a December election in almost a century.
Johnson grudgingly accepts 3-month delay
The European Union agreed Monday to delay Brexit by three months until Jan. 31, acting to avert a chaotic U.K. departure just three days before the U.K. was due to become the first country to leave the 28-nation bloc.
The decision was welcomed by politicians in the U.K. and the EU as a temporary respite from Brexit anxiety — with Prime Minister Boris Johnson grudgingly accepting the three-month delay, but stressing that he's doing it against his will and urging the EU to grant no more extensions.
In a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk, Johnson said that under U.K. law "I have no discretion to do anything other than confirm the U.K.'s formal agreement to this extension."
He called the delay "unwanted" and said it was "imposed on this government against its will."
In his letter, Johnson urges the 27 other EU countries "to make clear that a further extension after 31 January is not possible."
In the end, the choice was not in his hands. U.K. lawmakers forced Johnson to ask for a delay in order to avoid a no-deal Brexit, which would hurt the economies of both the U.K. and the EU.
Johnson is now pushing for an early election as a way of breaking the political impasse. He hopes voters will give his Conservative Party a majority, allowing him to push through the divorce deal he struck with the EU and — finally — take the U.K. out of the bloc.
'We should be leaving on Oct. 31'
After a short meeting of diplomats in Brussels, European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted that the EU's 27 other countries would accept "the UK's request for a Brexit flextension until 31 January, 2020." Under the terms of the "flextension," the U.K. can leave before Jan. 31 if the the both parliaments ratify a Brexit divorce agreement — either on Dec. 1 or Jan 1.
"It was a very short and efficient and constructive meeting and I am happy the decision has been taken," said Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator.
"We should be leaving on Oct. 31," said Johnson spokesperson James Slack. "He did secure a great new deal, he set out a timetable that would have allowed the U.K. to leave on Oct. 31 with that deal — and Parliament blocked it."
Johnson took office in July vowing to "get Brexit done" after his predecessor, Theresa May, resigned in defeat. Parliament had rejected her divorce deal with the bloc three times, and the EU had delayed the U.K.'s scheduled March 29 departure, first to April, and then to October.
Johnson has faced similar political gridlock, as Parliament blocked his attempt to push through his Brexit deal before the October deadline and made him ask the EU for more time.
European officials, meanwhile, urged the U.K. not to waste the extra Brexit time.
German government spokesperson Steffen Seibert welcomed the Brexit delay, but cautioned the U.K. to "use the additional time productively."
France was initially reluctant to extend the Brexit deadline beyond Oct. 31, but European Affairs Minister Amelie de Montchalin said the prospect of a new election in the U.K. justified the new delay. Montchalin also said it was not too late to revoke Article 50 of the EU treaty and cancel Brexit — something that Johnson has vowed he will never do.
"The prime minister can pick up his phone and call Brussels to say: 'I stop everything,'" she said.