Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 21 September 2019

Boris Johnson faces Brexit showdown in UK Parliament

The British PM has indicated a snap election is likely if rebels in Parliament succeed

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson reacts as he addresses the media outside Downing Street in London, Britain  REUTERS
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson reacts as he addresses the media outside Downing Street in London, Britain  REUTERS

Brexit battle lines have been drawn in a showdown between British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the UK Parliament as MPs plan a bid to block a no-deal exit from the EU.

Mr Johnson has warned his opponents, a powerful alliance in Parliament including some of his Conservative MPs, that the fate of Brexit negotiations hangs in the balance before a vote on Tuesday evening.

MPs held an emergency debate on Tuesday evening on a motion to bring forward a bill that would force the prime minister to ask for Brexit to be delayed until January 31 unless Parliament approves a new divorce deal by October 19.

Mr Johnson has pledged to leave the EU by October 31 with or without a deal, but before the debate, a group of cross-party rebels said they were confident they had the numbers to bring forward the bill and defeat the government.

He has threatened to call a snap election if Parliament passes legislation to prevent no-deal.

Government sources have said the early election, if approved, is likely to be held on October 14.

It was unclear if opposition parties would support any move to call an election, which requires the support of two thirds of the 650-seat House of Commons.

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Pound slump

After speculation over the general election, the pound has continued to fall on currency markets. The pound slid below $1.20 on September 3, 2019, for the first time since the start of 2017.

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Mr Johnson, who has outraged critics with his plans to suspend Parliament, said on Tuesday that the proposed bill would tie his hands in negotiations with Brussels.

"It means running up the white flag," he said. "It is a bill that, if passed, would force me to go to Brussels and beg an extension.

"It would force me to accept the terms offered. It would destroy any chance of negotiation for a new deal.”

But as Mr Johnson was speaking, he lost his working majority in Parliament when one of the rebels in his party Phillip Lee joined the pro-EU Liberal Democrats.

The defection was a huge blow for the prime minister, who had threatened Conservative MPs willing to rebel against him with deselection, meaning they would not be able to stand as party candidates in another election.

Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Tuesday that Mr Johnson's government had "no mandate, no morals and, as of today, no majority".

Former chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond is one of at least 15 Conservative MPs thought to rebel.

"I will support the bill," Mr Hammond the BBC. "There will be enough people for us to get this over the line today."

Updated: September 4, 2019 02:33 AM

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