LONDON – Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday said he will ask Parliament to approve a snap election, after he lost a crucial vote on a bid to prevent him from withdrawing Britain from the European Union without an exit deal.
Parliament’s elected main house, the Commons, voted 328-301 for a cross-party motion allowing a debate on Wednesday on a bill to block a no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31.
The bill would require Johnson to ask the EU to delay Brexit until Jan. 31, unless Parliament approves a new deal or votes in favor of a no-deal Brexit by Oct. 19.
“It means Parliament is on the brink of wrecking any deal that we may have had (with Brussels),” Johnson said following the vote.
“I don’t want an election, but if MPs vote tomorrow to compel another pointless delay to Brexit, then that would be the only way to resolve this,” he said.
Twenty-one pro-EU rebels from Johnson’s Conservatives joined opposition lawmakers in voting for Tuesday’s motion.
Keir Starmer, shadow Brexit secretary for the main opposition Labour Party, tweeted that the vote was a “hugely important first step in stopping Boris Johnson’s plan for a no-deal Brexit.”
Johnson will need the backing of two-thirds of the 650 lawmakers to win a vote on a snap election, making Labour’s stance crucial.
Responding to Johnson after the vote, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he will not back an early election unless legislation is passed to rule out a no-deal Brexit.
The Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats made similar statements, meaning Johnson would struggle to gain the two-thirds majority.
Commons speaker John Bercow allowed Tuesday’s debate on the cross-party bid to take control of the parliamentary process despite objections from Johnson’s government.
The debate was called after Johnson said last week that he would prorogue, or suspend, Parliament from mid-September to mid-October – a move seen by many as an effort to limit Parliament’s ability to have a say before the Oct. 31 deadline.
Johnson earlier accused supporters of the cross-party bill of wanting to “frustrate the will of the people” and “overturn the result of the (2016 Brexit) referendum.”
He lost his majority in Parliament earlier Tuesday after pro-EU lawmaker Phillip Lee left the Conservatives for the Liberal Democrats.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, Johnson’s leader in the Commons, said the allowance of the debate and the measures in the proposed bill were “constitutionally irregular” and quoted parliamentary rules requiring impartiality from the speaker.
Bercow insisted that he was fulfilling his duty to “facilitate the house ... without fear or favor.”
Opening the debate, pro-EU Conservative Oliver Letwin told lawmakers it was “decision time” on whether or not they want to prevent Britain leaving the EU without a deal.
Letwin said the government had “not produced a single indication of any viable proposal” to replace the so-called “backstop” provision, which is designed to guarantee an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit.
Brussels has so far refused Johnson’s demand for the backstop to be removed from Britain’s existing withdrawal agreement with the EU.