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Sept. 4, 2019, 7:33 p.m. EDT

Boris Johnson’s Brexit plans stymied again; Parliament rejects call for election

Lawmakers say no snap-election vote until Brexit delay becomes law

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By Associated Press


House of Commons via Associated Press
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks in the House of Commons in London on Wednesday.

LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson called Wednesday for a national election on Oct. 15, saying it was the only way out of Britain’s Brexit impasse after lawmakers moved to block his plan to leave the European Union next month without a divorce deal.

But Parliament delivered Johnson his third defeat in two days and turned down a motion triggering a vote. Johnson indicated he would try again, saying an election was the only way forward for the country, and accusing opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn of being afraid of the public’s judgment.

“The obvious conclusion, I’m afraid, is that he does not think he will win,” Johnson said.

Scarcely six weeks after taking office with a vow to break Britain’s Brexit deadlock — which entrapped and finally defeated his predecessor, Theresa May — Johnson’s own plans to lead the U.K. out of the EU are in crisis.

Johnson insists Britain must leave the bloc on the scheduled date of Oct. 31, with or without a divorce deal, but many lawmakers — including several from Johnson’s Conservative Party — are determined to thwart him. On Wednesday the House of Commons approved an opposition bill designed to halt a no-deal Brexit.

Johnson accused the opposition of trying to “overturn the biggest democratic vote in our history,” referring to the outcome of the 2016 referendum to leave the EU.

His solution, a risky one, is an election that could shake up Parliament and produce a less obstructive crop of lawmakers. But opinion polls do not point to a certain majority for Johnson’s Conservatives, and on Wednesday Johnson did not get the general election he craves — at least not yet. Opposition parties, deeply mistrustful of the prime minister, refused to back a new election until the anti-no deal bill becomes law.

“Let the bill pass and have Royal Assent and then we can have a general election,” Corbyn said.

Johnson needed the support of two-thirds of the 650 lawmakers in the House of Commons to trigger an election — a total of 434 — but got just 298, with 56 voting no and the rest abstaining.

Johnson signaled that he would try again to trigger a snap election, urging opposition lawmakers to “reflect overnight and in the course of the next few days.”

The maneuvers are part of a head-on showdown between Johnson’s Brexit-at-all-costs administration and a Parliament worried about the economic and social damage that could be wrought by a messy divorce.

Opposition lawmakers, supported by rebels in Johnson’s Conservative Party, warn that crashing out of the bloc without a divorce agreement would cause irreparable economic harm.

In a second straight day of parliamentary turmoil, the House of Commons voted by 327-299 in favor of an opposition bill to block a no-deal Brexit, sending it to Parliament’s upper chamber, the House of Lords. Even so, the bill’s fate is unsure. With Johnson set to suspend Parliament for several weeks starting next week, pro-Brexit peers in the Lords are threatening to try to stop it by filibustering until time runs out.

“There is very little time left,” said Labour Party lawmaker Hilary Benn as he introduced the opposition bill. “The purpose of the bill is very simple: to ensure that the United Kingdom does not leave the European Union on the 31st of October without an agreement.”

The bill would require the government to ask the EU to delay Brexit until Jan. 31, 2020, if it can’t secure a deal with the bloc by late October.

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