British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he is ready to call a snap election after lawmakers cleared the way for a vote on Wednesday to prevent the U.K. from leaving the European Union without a withdrawal agreement at the end of October.
The pronouncement was the conclusion of a dramatic day that saw a defection rob Johnson and his ruling Conservative Party of their single-seat majority in Parliament.
Johnson said after the 328 to 301 vote to seize control of parliamentary time on Wednesday, “I don’t want an election, but if MPs vote tomorrow to stop negotiations and to compel another pointless delay to Brexit potentially for years then that will be the only way to resolve this”.
A general election, which Johnson’s assistants say he wants for Oct. 14, would be the third in just four years for Britons.
On Tuesday, less than two months from the date he set for the U.K.’s divorce from the European Union — with or without a deal on the terms of the division — Johnson underwent another important blow to his distressing support in Parliament: Phillip Lee, a fellow Tory, defected from Johnson’s Conservative Party in a dramatic scene in the House of Commons.
“Sadly, the Brexit process has helped to transform this once great Party in to something more akin to a narrow faction, where an individual’s ‘conservativism’ is measured by how recklessly one wishes to leave the European Union,” Lee said in a statement released on Twitter. “Perhaps most disappointingly, it has increasingly become infected with the twin diseases of populism and English nationalism.”
That decision elicited fierce resistance, not just from opposition lawmakers but from members within his own party, as well. Commons Speaker John Bercow, for one, said last week that the suspension of Parliament “represents a constitutional outrage,” and more than a dozen of Johnson’s own Tories have endangered to back the bill blocking a no-deal Brexit.
Meanwhile, protests have exploded outside the Houses of Parliament, as well.
Johnson, for his part, has sought to suppress the mutiny within the Conservative Party with threats of deselection and ejection.
“To these rebels in his own party, he said, effectively, ‘I’m going to kick you out if you defy me.’ And this would effectively end their careers”. “Some people find this quite ruthless, but the rebels’ view is that ‘we’re going to choose what we see as the future of the country and the best interests of the country over party”.
Conservative MP Michael Gove told lawmakers Tuesday in the House of Commons, “One thing is critical: If we are to succeed in these negotiations [with EU officials], we need to get behind the prime minister”.
“And if it is the case that the motion before the House is passed tonight and the legislation which it gives effect to is passed tomorrow,” he continued, “then we will allow the European Union to dictate the length of any extension and to put any conditions they wish to on that extension. That would totally undermine the government’s capacity to negotiate in the national interest.”
Jo Swinson, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the party to whom Lee defected, didn’t buy arguments such as Gove’s
“The prime minister has lost his majority with the honorable member from Bracknell joining the Liberal Democrats,” she said on the chamber floor, adding: “When will the prime minister stop playing with people’s lives and stop Brexit?”