British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will try to call a snap election on Wednesday after lawmakers seeking to prevent him taking Britain out of the European Union without a divorce deal dealt him a humbling parliamentary defeat.
Parliament’s move leaves Brexit up in the air, with possible outcomes ranging from a turbulent no-deal exit to abandoning the whole endeavour – both outcomes would be unacceptable to swathes of the United Kingdom’s voters.
An alliance of opposition lawmakers backed by 21 rebels from Johnson’s Conservative Party defeated the government on Tuesday on a motion allowing them to try to pass a law which would force a three-month extension to Britain’s EU exit date.
Johnson cast the rebellion as an attempt to surrender to the EU, vowed never to delay Brexit beyond Oct. 31 and said the country needed an election. The government has scheduled a vote on an election after about 1800 GMT on Wednesday.
But opposition parties and rebels in his own party said they would not allow a no-deal Brexit to be “smuggled” through under the cover of an election.
“We’re not going to dance to his tune,” said Keir Starmer, the opposition Labour Party’s point man on Brexit. “It’s obvious what he’s up to. He wants to intercept this bill having lost control of parliament and stop us finishing the task in hand.
“We’re not going to vote with Boris Johnson today to deprive ourselves of the opportunity to complete the business that we’ve just seized control of the house to do,” he said.
The showdown between prime minister and parliament continues on Wednesday with a dizzying array of events planned including a vote on the attempt to block no deal, a vote on Johnson’s election bid and weekly questions to the prime minister.
As the three-year Brexit crisis approaches a crescendo, the United Kingdom was edging towards an election as most British politicians see no other way to break the impasse.
One scenario is for opposition parties to defeat Johnson’s bid for an election until they have passed their bill blocking a no-deal Brexit. Once in law, opposition parties could then agree to an election, possibly on Oct. 15.
“Base case is pre-Brexit election, but not necessarily before the 31st October,” U.S. investment bank Citi said. “No deal risk persists, but now wrapped in a general election.”
Brexit hangs in balance
Beyond the frantic push and shove of British politics, the United Kingdom still fundamentally has three main Brexit options: leave with a deal, leave without a deal or cancel Brexit altogether.
An October election would open up three likely options: a Brexit-supporting government under Johnson, a Labour government led by veteran socialist Jeremy Corbyn or a hung parliament that could lead to a coalition or minority government of some kind.
The type of Brexit that emerges from that election is unclear, though there would be little time for a deal before the Oct. 31 deadline. An avowedly pro-Brexit government could overturn any laws aimed at preventing a no-deal Brexit.
Johnson has promised to lead the United Kingdom out of the European Union with or without a deal, raising fears that he could catapult the world’s fifth largest economy into an abrupt departure from the bloc without agreement on how to handle everything from food regulations to car component imports.
In a sign of just how far Brexit has distorted British politics, Johnson’s Conservatives vowed to expel the 21 rebels – including the grandson of Britain’s World War Two leader Winston Churchill and two former finance ministers – from the party. Johnson also lost his working majority in parliament.
“How, in the name of all that is good and holy, is there no longer room in the Conservative Party for @NSoames?” Ruth Davidson, who quit as the Conservatives’ leader in Scotland last week, wrote on Twitter.
In one piece of good news for Johnson, the face of the 2016 Vote Leave campaign, a Scottish court ruled that his decision to suspend parliament later this month was lawful.
Judge Raymond Doherty said the question was not a matter for the courts and was a political issue which should be judged by parliament and the electorate.
Johnson said he did not want a no-deal Brexit – which investors warn would roil financial markets and send shockwaves through the European economy – but it was necessary to put it on the table so that Britain could negotiate the result it wanted.
The EU has refused to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement reached with Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May last November, and there were reports in British newspapers that Johnson’s top adviser Dominic Cummings had described negotiations as a sham.