British lawmakers, capping what may be one of the most abysmal starts any British leader has ever endured, on Monday rejected Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s bid to hold a new national election.
For Britain’s bare-knuckled new prime minister, it was a day of defeat. Parliament’s rejection of a snap election came as a new law went into effect on Monday blocking Johnson from pursuing a “no deal” withdrawal from the European Union.
Parliament is now suspended until mid-October, the result of earlier political manoeuvring by the prime minister. But by Monday’s end, it seemed clear that if Johnson had thought he could outfox Parliament by suspending it, sidelining lawmakers at a critical moment in the Brexit debate, he was the one who had been outmanoeuvred.
Now, the man who promised to deliver Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union “do or die,” formal withdrawal agreement or not, is suddenly flailing for a new strategy.
Johnson needed more than 430 votes for a snap election to proceed. He got 293.
“Johnson is a toothless prime minister who desperately needs a snap election to give some credibility to his Brexit strategy,” wrote Kallum Pickering, a senior economist with Berenberg Bank. But, he added: “For the opposition parties, it makes little sense to give Johnson the election on his terms. That would return the initiative to him.”
It was just another day in the new Britain, which has been bitterly divided since voters narrowly voted in favour of parting company with the European Union in a 2016 referendum. The issue did in the two prime ministers before Johnson, and while he was able to ride the ensuing tumult to power, it has severely damaged him, too.
On Monday, the motion to suspend Parliament, or “prorogue” it, and send lawmakers away for five weeks came after eight days of head-snapping moves and countermoves in Parliament.
The suspension, which the Johnson government announced in principle less than two weeks ago, was denounced by critics as a transparent, anti-democratic effort to sideline Parliament while the government forced through a no-deal Brexit.
But the government’s move to suspend Parliament backfired, serving to unite the disparate opposition, incite a revolt within Johnson’s own party and produce the bill that now blocks a no-deal Brexit. On Monday, that bill became law when it completed the final stage of passage, a formality known as royal assent.
The turbulent week has left Johnson in a tight corner. He has promised to leave the bloc on Oct 31 — without an agreement if necessary — and said last week that he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than request another delay to a process that has already been put off twice.
Protesters against Brexit outside of Parliament in London, Sep 9, 2019. As a new law went into effect blocking a “no deal” Brexit, lawmakers also handed Prime Minister Boris Johnson yet another defeat — rebuffing his bid for a snap election. The New York Times
Digging his way out of that promise could be tough, because a majority of lawmakers think that a no-deal Brexit would be disastrous for the country’s economy. The new law is intended to force Johnson to request another extension if he cannot secure a withdrawal agreement with EU officials before the Oct 31 deadline.
As recently as a few weeks ago, Johnson said the chances of leaving the EU without a deal were a million to one against; he now puts the prospects as “touch and go.”
But many of his critics believe the prime minister’s real agenda is political. They believe he plans to fight for reelection as the candidate for Brexit at any cost, rallying right-wing voters behind him and crushing the threat from the hard-line Brexit Party, led by Nigel Farage.
From Johnson’s perspective, the suspension of Parliament at least provides some relief by removing the possibility of further embarrassments and defeats at the hands of lawmakers after a week of tumultuous setbacks.
But it also means that prospects of a general electio