British Prime Minister Boris Johnson calls for a snap election after defeat on key Brexit vote

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn said he'd only agree to an election if Parliament moved to prevent a no-deal Brexit

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published September 4, 2019 9:15AM (EDT)

Boris Johnson (Getty/Simon Dawson)
Boris Johnson (Getty/Simon Dawson)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called for a snap election after Parliament voted on Tuesday to strip him of his power to force the United Kingdom into a no-deal exit from the European Union.

Parliament voted 328 to 301 on Tuesday to force a vote on legislation that would make it impossible for Johnson to leave the EU without a deal, according to the New York Times. In addition to being a major setback for Johnson's tenure as prime minister — it was his first-ever parliamentary vote — the vote also marked a rejection of Johnson's signature promise, which was to fulfill the 2016 Brexit referendum in October, even if it meant leaving the EU without a deal.

The prime minister responded by threatening a general election on Oct. 14, one that would leave either Johnson or his successor a mere 17 days before Britain is set to officially leave the EU on Oct. 31.

"I don’t want an election, the public don’t want an election, but if the House votes for this bill tomorrow, the public will have to choose who goes to Brussels on Oct. 17 to sort this out and take this country forward," Johnson said in a statement after Parliament's vote Tuesday.

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn responded to Johnson's call by saying that he would only agree to an election after Parliament passed a law prohibiting a no-deal Brexit.

The controversy over Johnson's Brexit agenda has led to a major fissure within the British Conservative Party. Twenty-one members of the Conservative Party are set to be formally expelled after they voted against Johnson on Brexit, including Nicholas Soames, the grandson of Winston Churchill, and Ken Clarke, the longest continuously sitting British lawmaker in the House of Commons, according to Reuters.

"I have been told by the chief whip, who is my friend and who I like very much, that it will be his sad duty to write to me tomorrow to tell me I have had the whip removed after 37 years as a Conservative member of Parliament," Soames told Reuters. "That’s fortunes of war. I knew what I was doing."

On Monday, Johnson claimed that he believed any legislation prohibiting him from a no-deal Brexit would make it impossible for him to effectively conduct negotiations.

"As we come to that Brexit deadline, I am encouraged by the progress we are making," Johnson told reporters. "In the last few weeks ,the chances of a deal have been rising, I believe, for three reasons: They can see that we want a deal, they can see that we have a clear vision for our future relationship with the EU (something that has not always perhaps been the case) and they can see that we are utterly determined to strengthen our position by getting ready to come out regardless, come what may. But if there is one that can hold us back in these talks, it is the sense in Brussels that MPs may find some way to cancel the referendum or that tomorrow MPs will vote with Jeremy Corbyn for yet another pointless delay."

He added, "I don't think they will. I hope that they won't. But if they do, they will plainly chop the legs out from under the U.K. position and make any further negotiation absolutely impossible. And so I say, to show our friends in Brussels that we are united in our purpose, MPs should vote with the government against Corbyn's pointless delay. I want everybody to know there are no circumstances in which I will ask Brussels to delay. We are leaving on the 31st of October, no ifs or buts. We will not accept any attempt to go back on our promises or scrub that referendum."

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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