PM’s bid to call early general election fails

Boris Johnson during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons
Boris Johnson during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons
Share this article

Boris Johnson’s snap general election plan has been roundly rejected after his bid to keep a no-deal Brexit on the table suffered a major blow.

The prime minister had called for a poll to be held on October 15 after legislation designed to prevent the UK crashing out of the EU on October 31 cleared the Commons.

But Labour and other opposition MPs refused to back the bid - which needed a two-thirds majority in the House of Commons - while the risk of a no-deal remained.

The government failed to secure the support of two-thirds of MPs, with the Commons voting 298 to 55, 136 short of the number needed.

In a hint he could seek a further vote to force an election, the PM issued a direct plea to Jeremy Corbyn’s MPs.

“I urge his colleagues to reflect on what I think is the unsustainability of this position overnight and in the course of the next few days,” he said.

Mr Corbyn later tweeted: “When no deal is off the table, once and for all, we should go back to the people in a public vote or a general election to decide our country’s future.”

In a series of setbacks, MPs approved a backbench Bill earlier in the evening to delay Brexit in order to prevent a no-deal withdrawal from the EU on October 31.

It cleared the Commons when it passed its third reading by 327 votes to 299, majority 28, and should now progress to the Lords.

Following a moment of confusion, an amendment seeking to give MPs a vote on Theresa May’s final Brexit deal was also passed - potentially paving the way for it to be put before the Commons for the first time.

Labour MP Stephen Kinnock’s amendment was approved after tellers for those voting against the amendment were not put forward during voting.

A Government source said it was a “free vote so no one put tellers in”.

Mrs May’s final offer, the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, emerged from cross-party talks earlier this year, but was never put before Parliament because she was ousted as Tory leader.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the Bill must be passed through the Lords and have received Royal Assent before he would entertain the thought of heading to the polls.

He said: “Let the Bill pass and have Royal Assent and then we can have a general election.”

A Downing Street spokesman earlier said the PM would not resign to force a general election if the Government lost the Commons vote, telling a Westminster briefing: “He’s not going to step down. He wants an election.

“We will find a way to deliver on what the British people want, which is to deliver Brexit by October 31.

“If the PM cannot get the Bill through Parliament because Parliament is determined to wreck the negotiations, the only other option then is a general election.”

Following last night’s defeat for the Government, the PM accused Mr Corbyn of wanting to “stop the people from voting”.

He said: “I think there is only one solution, I think he has become the first, to my knowledge, the first leader of the opposition in the democratic history of our country to refuse the invitation to an election.

“And I can only speculate as to the reasons behind his hesitation. The obvious conclusion, I’m afraid, is that he does not think he will win.

“I urge his colleagues to reflect on what I think is the sustainability of his position overnight and in the course of the next few days.”

Earlier, in a Commons speech, Ken Clarke got an element of revenge on the PM for ousting him.

The former Tory grandee was among 21 of the party’s MPs to have the whip removed after helping defeat the Government on a bill to seize control of the Commons order paper.

Speaking after Mr Johnson called a debate for an early general election, Mr Clarke said: “I do think the Prime Minister, with the greatest respect, has a tremendous skill in keeping a straight face while he’s being so disingenuous.”

Elsewhere, the EU’s lead negotiator has cancelled his planned first public speech in the UK since the Brexit vote.

Michel Barnier had been due to address an event at the Queen’s University in Belfast on Monday on “Brexit and the Future of Europe”.

A copy of a letter from Mr Barnier to the Queen’s University Vice Chancellor Ian Greer, explaining his reasons for pulling out of the event, has been reported by RTE.

In the letter, Mr Barnier said he is aware that his first public speech in the UK since the vote to leave the EU “could be used by some to undermine the chances for an orderly Brexit”.

“At this particular juncture of the process, the UK is engaged in an intense political debate. In many respects, we have finally arrived at a moment of truth for the country,” he wrote.

“It is my judgment that pronouncing myself publicly in the midst of the debate that is ongoing at Westminster would not be appropriate, even though my attitude has always been to work in an objective manner, based on facts and the law, together with the UK, to find solutions for the consequences of Brexit.”

In what may provide some comfort to the beleaguered PM, Mike Pence has said the US “stands with” the UK’s decision to pursue Brexit ahead of a meeting with Mr Johnson today.

The US vice president said his country “respects the will of the people” and offered “support” over the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

Meanwhile, MSPs will today vote on a motion condemning Mr Johnson’s plans to suspend the Commons and rejecting the prospect of a no-deal Brexit at Holyrood.

Although the motion, put forward by Constitutional Relations Secretary Mike Russell, will have no direct implication for the UK Government, he has said he wants it to “send a message” to the PM.