Opposition, rebel MPs approve motion to take control of parliamentary agenda as British PM’s Brexit plan flounders.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in the midst of a major parliamentary showdown over his bid to take the United Kingdom out of the European Unionby an October 31 deadline, with or without a divorce deal.
On their first day back after summer holidays, rebel and opposition MPs on Tuesday voted in favour of seizing control of the parliamentary agenda for the following day in order to introduce a bill forcing the prime minister to request a Brexit delay until January 31, 2020 – unless legislators approve a withdrawal agreement, or vote in favour of a so-called no-deal departure by October 19.
Johnson has threatened to push for a snap general election if the bill is passed, while his administration had previously warned MPs from his own ruling Conservative Party they would be expelled for defying the government in Tuesday’s vote.
Here are all the latest updates:
Tuesday, September 3
Rebel Conservative Party MPs to be expelled from party: Report
Johnson’s chief whip, or parliamentary enforcer, was speaking to Conservative Party legislators who voted in favour of a move to try to stop a no-deal Brexit to inform them they would be expelled from the party, Reuters news agency reported, citing a spokesman for the British leader.
“The chief whip is speaking to those Tory [Conservative] MPs who did not vote with the government this evening. They will have the Tory whip removed,” Reuters quoted the spokesman from Johnson’s office as saying.
Opposition defiant over election timing
Reacting to Johnson’s threat to push for a general election, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, said he wanted legislation preventing a no-deal Brexit in place before his party could agree to a new poll.
“As I have said before: if the prime minister has confidence in his Brexit policy – when he has one he can put forward – he should put it before the people in a public vote,” Corbyn said in parliament.
“And so, he wants to table a motion for a general election, fine get the bill through first in order to take no-deal off the table,” he added.
The Labour leader’s comments were echoed by other opposition politicians – including Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, and the leader of the Scottish National Party in the House of Commons, Ian Blackford, who both said there should be no election while no-deal remained a possibility.
Johnson threatens election
Johnson said his government would table a motion on Wednesday asking legislators to allow a snap election after MPs voted to seize control of the parliamentary agenda, suggesting a poll would be the only way to resolve Britain’s Brexit impasse if he is forced to seek another delay to the UK’s departure from the EU.
“I don’t want an election but if MPs vote tomorrow to stop negotiations and to compel another pointless delay to Brexit, potentially for years, then that will be the only way to resolve this,” Johnson said.
Under UK law, two-thirds of parliamentarians must sign off on holding a general election for it to take place.
MPs vote to seize control of parliament
Legislators backed a motion allowing a cross-party alliance of opposition MPs and Conservative Party rebels to take control of the parliamentary agenda.
MPs voted by 328 to 301 in favour of the proposal, with 21 Conservative legislators rallying against Johnson’s administration to inflict a first House of Commons defeat on the recently-installed prime minister.
Legislators are expected to table a bill on Wednesday that, if passed, would make it unlawful for Johnson to take the UK out of the EU on October 31 without a divorce deal – unless parliament signs off on a no-deal exit first.
Ireland to ramp up Brexit preparations
Ireland will begin a new phase of no-deal Brexit preparations on Wednesday with a call to action encouraging businesses to increase their level of preparedness, the government said after its weekly Cabinet meeting.
“The government was this evening briefed on the latest position on Brexit negotiations between the EU and UK, and in that context, noted the increasing risk of a no-deal Brexit on October 31,” a government statement said.
“The government also noted that a number of exercises are planned for the coming weeks to help further refine preparations and inform the approach to emergency crisis management in the event of a no deal Brexit,” it added.
EU to help firms, workers in case of no-deal: Report
The European Commission will propose financial help for EU businesses, workers and farmers if Britain crashes out of the bloc without any agreement, Reuters news agency reported, citing a document seen by the news agency.
On Wednesday, the EU executive arm will propose using the European Solidarity Fund, normally used to help victims of natural disasters in the EU, to cushion the financial blow for some EU countries most exposed to trade with Britain, Reuters reported.
The Commission also wants to use the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund, created to help EU workers who lose jobs due to globalisation, to be used for those dismissed after a “no-deal” crashing out, the document seen by Reuters said.
Labour Party want election, but after no-deal ruled out
Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, told Sky News the Labour Party was desperate to hold a general election but suggested the party might vote against any move tomorrow by the government to bring forward a ballot.
Thornberry said Labour wanted to see legislation ruling out a no-deal Brexit on October 31 passed first amid fears Johnson’s government could win required parliamentary support for an election to be held before the deadline for leaving the bloc, only to subsequently postpone the vote and take Britain out of the EU by default.
‘The people are our masters’
Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Leader of the House of Commons, denounced proceedings in parliament as “unconstitutional” as he rallied against legislators bid to alter the government’s Brexit plan.
“The use of emergency debates is unconstitutional. And the bill itself is yet more unconstitutional,” Rees-Mogg told MPs in the Commons, adding that legislators should not “challenge the people” over their decision to exit the EU.
“We should recognise that the people are our masters and show us to be their lieges and servants, not to place ourselves in the position of their overlords,” he added.
Speaker John Bercow granted approval for an emergency debate on Brexit applied for by Conservative Party MP Oliver Letwin.
The debate will last for up to three hours, Bercow said, after a requisite more than 40 MPs assented to it going ahead.
It will conclude with a vote on whether MPs can seize control of the parliamentary agenda on Wednesday, when rebel Conservative and opposition legislators hope to introduce legislation which could ultimately lead to the blocking of a no-deal Brexit on October 31.
Churchill’s grandson, former minister, to vote against PM
Conservative Party MP Nicholas Soames, the grandson of Britain’s World War Two leader Winston Churchill, said he would rebel against the government over its Brexit plan.
Replying to a Twitter post by former Secretary of State for International Development Rory Stewart, in which the one-time Conservative leadership candidate announced he would vote against “no-deal”, Soames commented “MeToo”.
— Nicholas Soames (@NSoames) September 3, 2019
Several high-profile Conservative MPs, including a number of former ministers, earlier announced they would vote to oppose a no-deal Brexit on October 31. Among them were former finance minister Philip Hammond and former justice minister David Gauke.
‘What a way to end summer holidays’
Al Jazeera’s Jonah Hull, reporting from London, said Johnson had endured a “bruising” time in parliament as MPs keen to prevent a no-deal Brexit rallied against him on their first day back in the House of Commons after a summer recess.
“It has been a pretty extraordinary day… what a way to end the summer holidays,” Hull said, referencing Conservative MP Phillip Lee’s dramatic defection from the party.
Commenting on rebel and opposition MPs upcoming attempt to bring forward fresh Brexit legislation, Hull said any vote on the proposed bill was likely to be “extremely close”.
“It relies on a number of Conservative Party MPs to break ranks and vote against their own government if it is to succeed … but the rebel alliance, as they call themselves, believe they have the numbers to win,” he added.
‘No mandate, morals, majority’
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn attacked Johnson for trying to take Britain out of the EU without a deal despite the costs of such a move.
Addressing parliament, Corbyn said the government had “no mandate, no morals, and, as of today, no majority”.
“The attack on our democracy in order to force through a disastrous no-deal Brexit is unprecedented, anti-democratic and unconstitutional,” he added.
Boris Johnson’s government has no mandate, no morals and, as of today, no majority. pic.twitter.com/kjbh3b1T8b
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) September 3, 2019
No-deal can be managed, minister says
Michael Gove, the government minister in charge of preparing Britain for a no-deal Brexit, acknowledged that departing the EU without a withdrawal agreement would present significant challenges but said the risks could be mitigated.
Gove also told MPs that many of the steps required to ensure smooth trade after Brexit were the responsibility of businesses.
Johnson slams ‘surrender bill’
Johnson denounced legislation prepared by opposition MPs which could, if passed, force the British leader to request a Brexit extension from the EU until January 31, 2020.
Addressing parliament, Johnson said the bill amounted to “surrender” and would leave Britain locked in to the EU for as “long as they [the bloc’s members] want and on their terms”.
“I will never surrender the control of the negotiations in the way the leader of the opposition is demanding,” he said, referring to Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.
“Enough is enough. This country wants this done. They want the referendum respected. We are negotiating a deal and though I am confident of getting a deal we will leave on 31 October in all circumstances. There will be no further pointless delay,” he added.
No-deal Brexit would cost UK billions, UN says
Leaving the EU without a trade deal would cost Britain at least $16bn in lost exports, and would probably cost far more after indirect effects are taken into account, a report by the UN trade agency UNCTAD said.
“UNCTAD’s research indicates that a no-deal Brexit will result in UK export losses of at least $16 billion, representing an approximate 7% loss of overall UK exports to the EU,” the agency said.
“These losses would be much greater because of non-tariff measures, border controls and consequent disruption of existing UK-EU production networks,” it added.
A no-deal #BREXIT could cost the UK billions in lost export earnings.
— UNCTAD (@UNCTAD) September 3, 2019
The Office for Budget Responsibility, the UK government’s independent forecasting body, warned in July that a no-deal departure from the EU would shrink the British economy by two percent and plunge it into a recession.
MP Phillip Lee defected from the Conservative Party to join the opposition Liberal Democrats, leaving Johnson’s government without a working majority.
“This Conservative Government is aggressively pursuing a damaging Brexit in unprincipled ways,” Lee said in a statement.
“It is putting lives and livelihoods at risk unnecessarily and it is wantonly endangering the integrity of the United Kingdom. More widely, it is undermining our country’s economy, democracy and role in the world,” he added, before accusing Johnson’s administration of “using manipulation, bullying and lies … in a deliberate and considered way”.
After a great deal of thought, I have reached the conclusion that it is no longer possible to serve my constituents’ and country’s best interests as a Conservative Member of parliament. My letter to the Prime Minister: pic.twitter.com/0QreSbSdwR
— Dr Phillip Lee MP (@DrPhillipLeeMP) September 3, 2019
Read more here.
Johnson to meet Irish PM
Johnson said he would meet Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in Dublin on Monday as part of efforts to reach a deal to leave the EU.
Addressing parliament after it returned from a summer recess, Johnson said he was making progress in talks with the EU to change an agreement negotiated by his predecessor Theresa May.
He argued there were other ways to avoid any return to a hard border between Northern Ireland, a constituent part of the UK, and EU member Ireland than the existing withdrawal agreement’s so-called “backstop” provision.
European leaders have consistently rejected calls for the safety net to be axed, however, with the bloc’s lead Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier saying over the weekend that the controversial clause was the “maximum flexibility” the EU could offer.
Opposition alliance bids to avert no-deal
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said opposition parties were “united” in working together on ways to stop Johnson from using an early election to force through a no-deal Brexit.
“We are confident that the legislative route we have adopted has every chance of being successful, and we are working on ways in which we can prevent Boris Johnson manipulating an election to force a no-deal Brexit,” Corbyn said in a statement after meeting the leaders of other opposition parties.
“Labour wants to prevent a no-deal Brexit, and to have a general election, so we can end austerity and invest in our communities. I am confident we can have both, and we’ve been in discussions about a way to achieve this,” he added.
Johnson was looking to suspend parliament two weeks before this month’s planned shutdown was officially announced, a court was told.
The prime minister attracted controversy when he announced on August 28 he would suspend parliament from mid-September to mid-October to allow the government to announce a new legislative programme.
Political opponents, who argue it was simply a tactic to prevent them from trying to stop a no-deal Brexit, had already turned to Scotland’s highest civil court to ask it to rule that it would be illegal and unconstitutional for parliament to be suspended before the EU exit date.
At a hearing, the lawyer representing more than 70 legislators told Scotland’s Court of Session that two weeks before Johnson’s announcement, he was sent a note from an aide asking if he wanted to prorogue, or suspend, parliament from mid-September. A tick and the word “yes” was written on the document, lawyer Aidan O’Neill said.
Johnson declined to give a sworn statement to the court setting out his reasons for shutting down parliament.
Sterling sunk to a three-year low below $1.20 as Johnson’s implicit threat to legislator to back him on Brexit or face an election sent investors scrambling to dump British assets.
The pound, which has lost 20 percent of its value since Britain voted to leave the European Union in 2016, fell as low as $1.1959 before recovering.
Barring an October 2016 flash crash when sterling briefly reached $1.15, the British currency has not regularly traded at such levels since 1985, according to Refinitiv data cited by Reuters news agency.
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