Thu. 9:03 a.m.: Johnson calls opponents cowardly, plans new election bid
LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister Boris Johnson kept up his push for an early election as a way to break Britain’s Brexit impasse, as lawmakers moved to stop the U.K. leaving the European Union next month without a divorce deal.
Johnson suffered another setback as his own brother quit the government today, saying it was not serving the national interest.
Johnson remained determined to secure an election, after lawmakers on Wednesday rejected his attempt to trigger a snap poll. House of Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg told Parliament that a vote would be held Monday on a new motion calling for an election.
Johnson’s office said the prime minister would appeal directly to the public, arguing in a speech later that politicians must “go back to the people and give them the opportunity to decide what they want.”
He called Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s refusal to endorse an election a “cowardly insult to democracy.”
Johnson’s determination to lead Britain out of the EU on Oct. 31, come hell or high water, is facing strong opposition from lawmakers, including members of his own Conservative Party who oppose a no-deal Brexit.
In a personal blow, the prime minister’s brother, Jo Johnson, quit the government, saying he could no longer endure the conflict “between family loyalty and the national interest.”
Jo Johnson had served as an education minister in his older brother’s government, despite his opposition to leaving the EU without a divorce deal. He said today that he would also step down from Parliament, the latest in a string of resignations by Conservative moderates opposed to the government’s hard-Brexit stance.
Boris Johnson became prime minister in July after promising Conservatives that he would complete Brexit and break the impasse that has paralyzed the country’s politics since voters decided in June 2016 to leave the bloc, and which brought down his predecessor, Theresa May.
But after just six weeks in office, his plans to lead the U.K. out of the EU are in crisis. He is caught between the EU, which refuses to renegotiate the deal it struck with May, and a majority of British lawmakers opposed to leaving without an agreement. Most economists say a no-deal Brexit would cause severe economic disruption and plunge the U.K. into recession.
Johnson’s solution is to seek an election that could shake up Parliament and produce a less troublesome crop of lawmakers. It is a risky gambit: Opinion polls don’t point to a clear majority for the Conservatives and the public mood is volatile.
On Wednesday, the prime minister asked Parliament to back an Oct. 15 election, after lawmakers moved to block his plan to leave the EU on Oct. 31, even if there is no withdrawal agreement to pave the way.
But Parliament turned down his motion. 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.
British prime ministers used to be able to call elections at will, but under 2011 legislation fixing elections at five-rear intervals, they now need the support of lawmakers to hold an early poll.
Corbyn said Labour, the biggest opposition party, would only vote for an early election if the prospect of a no-deal Brexit was taken off the table.
Labour economy spokesman John McDonnell said the party wanted an election but was still deciding on whether to seek one before the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline, or to wait until Parliament had secured a delay to Britain’s departure from the bloc.