Boris Johnson plows forward with plan for October election as his own brother resigns

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's plan to kick off what is in effect an election campaign casting U.K. Parliament as the enemy of Brexit was overshadowed on Thursday when his younger brother quit the government, citing the national interest.

'Boris Johnson poses such a threat that even his own brother doesn't trust him,' Labour crows

Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave a speech to police officers during a visit to West Yorkshire on Thursday, before fielding questions from reporters on a Brexit process that remains as clouded as ever. (Danny Lawson/Getty Images)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised on Thursday he would never delay Britain's exit from the European Union, due on Oct. 31.

Asked if he could promise the British public that he would not go to Brussels and ask for another delay to Brexit, Johnson said: "Yes, I can. I'd rather be dead in a ditch."

"It achieves absolutely nothing. What on earth is the point of further delay?" he added, speaking following a speech at a police station in northern England.

Johnson reiterated his calls for an election as soon as possible.

"I don't want an election at all, but frankly I can't see any other way," he said, with Brexit remaining up in the air more than three years after Britons voted to leave the bloc in a 2016 referendum.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, who manages government business in the House of Commons, said Parliament would be asked again on Monday to approve a snap election. On Wednesday, lawmakers had rejected Johnson's request for an Oct. 15 poll.

Johnson's plan to kick off what is in effect an election campaign casting the U.K. Parliament as the enemy of Brexit was overshadowed earlier Thursday when his younger brother quit the government, citing the national interest.

Conservative Party lawmaker Jo Johnson arrives at Downing Street in London on Wednesday. The younger brother of U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson offered a surprise resignation a day later, citing an 'unresolvable tension.' (Alberto Pezzali/The Associated Press)

Jo Johnson resigned as a junior business minister and said he was stepping down as a lawmaker for their Conservative Party.

"In recent weeks I've been torn between family loyalty and the national interest — it's an unresolvable tension & time for others to take on my roles," he tweeted.

The 47-year-old has been in Parliament since 2010, serving in several ministerial roles. He voted for Remain in 2016 and had previously expressed backing for a second referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Union, but  nevertheless accepted a job as a junior minister in the business and education departments when his brother became prime minister.

"The prime minister would like to thank Jo Johnson for his service," a spokesperson from Johnson's office said in a statement.

"He has been a brilliant, talented minister and a fantastic MP. The PM, as both a politician and brother, understands this will not have been an easy matter for Jo."

Frenetic week

The Johnson family itself is notoriously split over Brexit with his sister Rachel having represented different parties opposed to Brexit, and his father Stanley being a committed europhile and former European Commission official.

The opposition Labour Party seized on the resignation, saying it underlined a lack of trust in the prime minister.

"Boris Johnson poses such a threat that even his own brother doesn't trust him," said Labour education spokesperson Angela Rayner.

The departure came amid a frenetic week.

After wresting control of the lower house of Parliament on Wednesday, an alliance of opposition parties and rebels expelled from Johnson's Conservative party voted to force him to seek a three-month delay to Brexit rather than leaving without a deal on Oct. 31, the date now set in law.

Boris Johnson loses bid for early U.K. election

2 years ago
Duration 2:06
The House of Commons has denied a motion by U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson to force a snap election on Oct. 15. Johnson failed to gain the required two-thirds majority in Wednesday's vote, which came shortly after MPs approved a bill designed to force him to seek a further delay to Brexit. 2:06

The blocking bill was passed by 329-300 and then 327-299 in the House of Commons on Wednesday. The law is scheduled to pass the upper house, the Lords, by Friday evening.

Since taking office in July, Johnson has tried to corral the Conservative Party, which is openly fighting over Brexit, behind his strategy of leaving the European Union before Nov. 1 at all costs, with or without a deal.

On Tuesday, he expelled 21 Conservative lawmakers from the party for failing to back his Brexit strategy, including Nicholas Soames, Winston Churchill's grandson, and two former finance ministers.

Labour wants election, with conditions

Behind the sound and fury of the immediate crisis, an election now beckons for a polarized country.

The main choices on offer are Johnson's insistence on leaving the EU on Oct. 31, come what may, and Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn's socialist vision, coupled with a promise of a fresh referendum with an option to stay in the EU.

Michael Gove, the British minister in charge of co-ordinating no-deal Brexit planning, dismissed the possibility speculated in the media, of Johnson triggering an election by more drastic means.

"I don't think the prime minister has any intention of resigning. He was elected in a leadership election, in which I took part. He won that leadership election, he won the argument in that election," said Gove.

Jeremy Corbyn, shown, and the Labour Party chided Boris Johnson over his behaviour, and did not agree to a snap election, fearing the government would work to delay the vote until after the current Oct. 31 Brexit deadline passed. (House of Commons via PA via AP)

The crisis has for three years overshadowed European Union affairs, eroded Britain's reputation as a stable pillar of the West and seen sterling twitch in tune to the probability of a no-deal exit.

Asked if Brexit would happen on Oct. 31, Johnson's belligerent senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, a focus of many departing Conservative lawmakers' grievances, told Reuters: "Trust the people."

The opposition Labour Party has cast Johnson's language — including calling Corbyn a "chicken" — as pathetic, said he was trying to act like U.S. President Donald Trump and compared him to a toddler having a tantrum.

Johnson, the face of the 2016 Vote Leave campaign, has pushed for an election on Oct. 15, two weeks before the United Kingdom is due to leave the EU, though opposition parties are debating which date they would accept.

"We are saying, yeah, bring on a general election, of course," said John McDonnell, the Labour Party's second most powerful man.

"We will ensure that happens after we have got the legislation to protect against a 'no-deal' Brexit. But we will consult and do it on at the date on which we will think will have maximum advantage against a 'no-deal.'"

With files from CBC News


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?