People demonstrate at Parliament Square and outside Downing Street against Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s move to suspend Parliament.
LONDON – Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces a showdown in Britain’s Parliament on Tuesday that could determine the fate of the country’s exit from the European Union –Brexit – and end in him calling a snap election a little over a month after taking power.
Rebel lawmakers from Britain’s opposition parties have decided to challenge Johnson’s insistence that the nation will leave the E.U. on Oct. 31 with or without a formal withdrawal agreement. They have returned on the first day after Parliament’s summer recess with proposed legislation that, if it passes, would force Johnson to request that the E.U. delay Brexit until Jan. 31 unless parliamentarians approve a new exit deal by the Halloween deadline, or unless Parliament votes in favor of a “no-deal” Brexit.
Speaking outside his Downing Street office in central London on Monday, Johnson said that if the rebel opposition lawmakers win the vote he’ll call an early election, probably on Oct. 14. Johnson’s ruling Conservative Party has a very slim working parliamentary majority of just one seat and about 20 Conservative lawmakers have hinted that they may be prepared to rebel against Johnson’s government.
“Let’s let our negotiators get on with their work, without that sword of Damocles over their necks, and without an election, without an election,” Johnson said Monday. “I don’t want an election, you don’t want an election. Let’s get on with the people’s agenda.”
Brexit files: Boris Johnson asks Queen Elizabeth to suspend Parliament
The vote is due around 9:30 p.m local time (4:30 p.m. EST).
Economists and political scientists believe that a “no-deal” Brexit is a potentially dangerous move because it will overnight do away with decades of seamless trade and cooperation of the E.U. bloc’s single market of 500 million people. It could lead to disruption of travel and supplies and lead to a “hard” border between E.U. member Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. Johnson is adamant that the potential for leaving without a deal must remain as a bargaining chip in E.U. negotiations, but the E.U. has repeatedly made it clear that it is not willing to renegotiate the agreement struck with former Prime Minister Theresa May, which led to her downfall.
Tuesday’s vote, which first needs to be given the official go-ahead by House of Commons speaker John Bercow, is partly procedural and will start a process that is expected to be concluded later in the week, but the outcome of tonight’s contest will give an indication of whether the proposed bill has sufficient support to pass.
Still, even if Johnson loses the vote, it’s not certain he will be able to hold a new election, which can only be called every five years unless a prime minister gets approval from two thirds of lawmakers. The prime minister can chose on which day to hold the vote.
Johnson’s decision to hold any new vote two weeks ahead of Britain’s official Brexit date has led analysts and political commentators to speculate that it may be a move designed to shore up “no-deal” support from his own Conservative Party.
Johnson has already controversially shortened the time lawmakers have to debate Brexit by suspending Parliament for five weeks from the start of next week. He has also threatened to ban from standing at the next election any Conservative Party politicians who vote with the rebels to prevent a “no-deal” Brexit.
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“If the rebels succeed, Boris Johnson will announce his own vote tomorrow … in the hope of winning a fresh mandate for his no-deal agenda,” wrote Jack Blanchard in Politico’s “London Playbook,” a comprehensive round up of British political news and analysis. “If the rebels fail, however, it will be all systems go for the PM’s pledge to pull Britain out of the E.U. on Oct. 31, with or without a deal. The stakes could hardly be higher – and the result tonight is too close to call.”
Confused about Brexit? Here’s a brief primer
June 2016: British public vote to leave the European Union. “Leave” side wins by a narrow majority.
March 2017: British government formally triggers Article 50, legislation backed by Parliament that gives the E.U. notice it will leave the bloc in two years.
November 2018: British Parliament and E.U. leaders agree to tentative withdrawal agreement over the objection of many British lawmakers who worry about how the deal treats the status of the free-trade border between E.U.-member Ireland and North Ireland (part of the United Kingdom) after Brexit.
November 2018-March 2019: British Prime Minister Theresa May fails three times over several months to get parliamentary approval for deal agreed with E.U.
March 29: Initial Brexit deadline passes. May requests new June 30 deadline. The E.U. grants a longer extension, until Oct. 31.
May 24: After months of pressure, May announces she will resign as prime minister effective June 7, but will stay on in a caretaker capacity until a successor is found.
May 23-26: Britain participates in E.U. parliamentary elections even though it is still expecting to leave the E.U.
July 24: Boris Johnson is appointed prime minister after an internal Conservative Party vote. In Britain, a party, not a specific leader is elected. Johnson vows to deliver Brexit with or without a formal withdrawal agreement with the E.U.
Aug. 28: Johnson asks Queen Elizabeth to “prorogue” or suspend Parliament from Sept. 10, boosting his chances of delivering Brexit with or without an E.U. exit deal.
Sept. 3: Parliament to return from recess. Lawmakers vote on proposed legislation aimed at preventing a “no-deal” Brexit.
Sept. 10: Parliament expected to be “prorogued” or suspended per Johnson’s request.
Oct 14: Potential British election.
Oct. 17-18: Last scheduled E.U. summit where Brexit will be discussed.
Oct. 31: Britain expected to formally leave the E.U.
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