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Boris Johnson Loses Parliamentary Majority, Faces Brexit Showdown
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=51530"><span class="small">Kevin Sullivan and Karla Adam, The Washington Post</span></a>   
Tuesday, 03 September 2019 13:30

Excerpt: "Britain's Parliament returns from its summer recess and is facing a titanic showdown over Prime Minister Boris Johnson's plans to leave the European Union. Here's what we know."

Boris Johnson. (photo: Carl Court/Getty Images)
Boris Johnson. (photo: Carl Court/Getty Images)

Boris Johnson Loses Parliamentary Majority, Faces Brexit Showdown

By Kevin Sullivan and Karla Adam, The Washington Post

03 September 19


oris Johnson, speaking Tuesday before the British Parliament for only the second time since becoming prime minister, is facing a rebellion of lawmakers who are livid about his plan to shut them down and who are desperately trying to stop Britain from leaving the European Union without a withdrawal deal on Oct. 31. 

The opposition, which includes members of Johnson’s Conservative Party, is seeking to take control of the agenda and pass legislation to delay Brexit by an additional three months.

Johnson has warned that if his foes succeed, he will trigger a snap general election — and bar those who vote against him this week from running as Conservatives.

In Parliament, Johnson was heckled and catcalled from almost the moment he stood to speak. He noted that Tuesday was the 80th anniversary of Britain’s entrance into World War II and said “This country still stands then as now for democracy for the rule of law.” He was met with jeering laughter.

He insisted that Britain was making progress in talks with European Union leaders about an orderly Brexit, which drew more mocking laughter.

Aided by repeated demands for “Order” by House Speaker John Bercow, Johnson said his opponents’ proposal to delay Brexit by another three months after Oct. 31 would “Force us to beg for yet another pointless delay.”

“If that happens, all the progress we have been making will have been for nothing,” Johnson said, calling the legislation “Jeremy Corbyn’s surrender bill,” referring to his chief opponent, the leader of the Labour Party.

“There are no circumstances in which I could accept anything like it,” he said. “We promised the people we would get Brexit done. Enough is enough. The country wants this done.”

In his response, Corbyn said “This reckless government only has one plan, and that is to crash out of the European Union.”

He called Johnson’s government “dangerous and reckless,” and a “government of cowardice” with “no mandate, no morals and, as of today, no majority.”

Corbyn was referring to the dramatic defection of Conservative member of Parliament Phillip Lee, who resigned while Johnson was speaking on the floor of the House of Commons. He said in his resignation letter that the Conservative Party, of which he had been a member for 27 years, had become “infected with the twin diseases of populism and English nationalism.”

Lee’s move means that Johnson has lost his working majority of just one vote, making it far harder to pass legislation or get anything meaningful done in Parliament.

“It’s really not possible to govern,” said said Catherine Barnard, professor of European law at the University of Cambridge. She said in a less-fractious era, Johnson might find other parties willing to cooperate with him. But, “At the moment nothing is possible at all,” she said.

Barnard said the loss of a majority gives Johnson added incentive to seek a snap general election, which he has warned is possible in the coming weeks. Going to the voters would allow him a chance to strengthen his numbers in Parliament, and claim a mandate for his pursuit of Brexit on Oct. 31, “no matter what.”

The showdown is happening as Parliament returns from its summer recess, after days of legislators accusing each other of attacking British democracy and raucous street protests calling Johnson’s moves a “coup.”

Johnson enraged opponents by getting the queen’s approval to suspend Parliament for five more weeks starting as early as Monday, as the country is trying to resolve its most serious political crisis in decades.

Several legal challenges have been filed against Johnson’s move to suspend Parliament. A court in Scotland was scheduled to hear arguments Tuesday from lawyers representing 75 opposition lawmakers who want to prevent the suspension.

In a sign of the economic uncertainty caused by the political turmoil, the British pound dropped to its lowest level against the dollar in 35 years, apart from a brief plunge in 2016 likely for technical reasons.

Unlike his predecessor Theresa May, who did everything she could to keep her party together, Johnson is pursuing tactics apparently aimed at uniting the Brexit vote and steering Britain out of the bloc, even if that means trimming his party by shedding dissenters.

That has already caused some remarkable splits in the party. On Tuesday, Philip Hammond, who was Britain’s finance minister only a few weeks ago, told the BBC that he would back legislation to delay Brexit and that there were “enough” Conservative rebels for it to pass.

He also questioned whether Johnson and his allies could kick him out of the party, saying they would have the “fight of a lifetime” if they tried.

A group of 14 rebel Conservative members of Parliament met with Johnson at 10 Downing Street Tuesday morning. Media reports suggested neither side changed its position.

David Gauke, a senior rebel, wrote in the Times that he would support the legislation to delay Brexit by three months, despite the threat to be kicked out of his party. “It is a simple and, in some respects, modest bill. But without it, the consequences for the country are likely to be calamitous. However painful, I must support it.”

Guto Harris, Johnson’s former communications director, told the BBC that Johnson risks “historical humiliation” in the Brexit maneuvering. “It looks as if he’s prepared to bet on himself being the shortest-serving prime minister in history,” Harris said.

A throng of noisy demonstrators gathered outside of Parliament, with those draped in E.U. blue chanting “Save our democracy! Stop the coup!”

Many wore yellow stickers that read “Bollocks to Brexit.” There were also pro-Brexit signs that read “Remain MPs are the only obstacle to a good deal” and “Traitor Parliament.”

“Brexit is a bad idea,” said Roger Horne, a retired accountant from London. Outside of the bloc, “Britain would have to go on bended knee to either President Trump or the remaining E.U. I think we have greater power, greater influence in the E.U.”

Referring to Johnson’s threat expel Tories who don’t back him, he said “maybe Johnson is trying to turn it [the party] into some kind of religious sect.”

Val Bateson, 77, a librarian, holding a large red “Vote Leave” placard, said that “Parliament has been fiddling about for three years and not implementing this even though they promised to do so.”

When a group of pro-E.U. protesters marched by chanting “This is what democracy looks like!” Bateson said muttered under her breath, “you didn’t get a majority, mate.”

A general election, which Johnson allies say could happen on Oct. 14, could either sink Johnson’s government or give him a popular mandate to push his promised “do or die” Oct. 31 Brexit. It could also propel Corbyn, a nationally unpopular leftist and vocal critic of President Trump, into the prime minister’s job, creating more uncertainty about Brexit and relations with Washington.

Taken together, all the threats and maneuvers have created an extremely volatile and emotional political drama in Westminster, London’s political center, as Parliament convenes on Tuesday.

Corbyn has said his priority for the day is to introduce emergency legislation to block Britain from leaving the E.U. without an agreement in place to regulate trade, border security and other critical issues — the so-called no-deal Brexit.

Most lawmakers in Parliament oppose leaving without an exit plan, something many analysts say could be economically damaging and lead to food and medicine shortages. Johnson has dismissed those predictions as fearmongering.

A cross-party group of a dozen members of Parliament plans to propose legislation seeking a three-month extension of the Brexit deadline, according to a draft of the proposal circulated Monday evening by Labour legislator Hilary Benn.

First they would have to win a procedural battle allowing them to introduce the bill under emergency conditions.

Johnson on Monday accused his opponents of seeking “yet another pointless delay.”

“There are no circumstances in which I will ask Brussels to delay. We are leaving on 31 October, no ifs or buts,” he said.

Tuesday morning, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the BBC that the delay legislation was “deeply irresponsible and counterproductive.”

“We cannot countenance any further delay because it stops the country from moving forward,” he said.

The House of Lords would also have to approve any delay legislation. Shami Chakrabarti, a Labour Party member of the Lords, told the BBC on Tuesday that she would support the bill and the result.

“Of course we want a general election,” she said. “We are geared up for it. We want it as soon as possible.”

Johnson also said that any delay would disrupt progress on negotiations with the E.U. over an exit deal. And he said it would undercut the government’s negotiating position.

Hammond said Johnson was being “disingenuous.”

He said there is “no progress” in negotiations with the E.U. because the government has put forward “no proposals” and there is not even a negotiating team.

If Johnson calls a snap election, he will need the backing of two-thirds of Parliament. Normally that would be easy, because the opposition would be enthusiastic about an opportunity to unseat him at the polls.

But Labour’s position is not completely clear. At a rally on Monday, Corbyn expressed enthusiasm, saying: “I will be delighted when the election comes. I’m ready for it.”

But other Labour lawmakers have said that now is not the time. Mary Creagh, a Labour politician, told the BBC that a general election is not the answer at the moment. Creagh said she worried that Johnson could schedule the election for sometime after the end of October, which would mean that Britain would “crash out” of the E.U. on Oct. 31, by default.

“We will not be complicit in crashing our country out without a deal,” Creagh vowed.

Johnson has also sought to counter Corbyn by promising large spending increases for education, health and other services. Corbyn for years has railed against Conservative Party austerity.

Johnson could also face stiff competition in an election from his right flank, particularly from Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party. Johnson says he wants to strike a deal with the European Union, even though he would leave without a deal. Farage, a Brexit hard-liner, argues that Britain should leave regardless of the terms.

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