Tory rebels have defied threats to throw them out their party and call a snap election, handing Boris Johnson’s government a damaging defeat in his first vote as Prime Minister that could see him forced to rule out a no-deal Brexit today.
Mr Johnson immediately confirmed he would seek to force a general election if MPs defy his warnings and pass emergency legislation this afternoon delaying the UK’s exit from the EU.
An angry Prime Minister claimed MPs were “on the brink of wrecking any deal that we might be able to get in Brussels” and warned them that if they pass today’s legislation, “the public will have to choose who goes to Brussels”.
But opposition parties moved to ‘seal in’ Mr Johnson’s government by committing not to allow an election unless a no-deal scenario is ruled out. “Let us have an election, but let us have an election the respects the democracy of this house,” the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford said following the vote.
In a dramatic day, the Prime Minister also lost his wafer-thin parliamentary majority in humiliating fashion after one would-be Tory rebel defected to the Liberal Democrats, symbolically crossing the floor of the Commons in front of Mr Johnson as he was addressing MPs.
Let us have an election, but let us have an election the respects the democracy of this houseIan Blackford
And there was a reminder of the potential fallout from decisions set to be taken at Westminster as Nicola Sturgeon confirmed the Scottish Government would formally request the powers to hold a second independence referendum in the coming year.
The political careers of 21 Tory MPs, all but one of them former ministers, are likely to be over after they rebelled despite a warning from Downing Street that they faced the immediate loss of the party whip and a ban from standing for election as Conservative candidates.
Two of the rebels, Justine Greening and Guto Bebb, pre-empted any sanction by saying they would leave parliament at the next election. All 13 Scottish Tory MPs voted with the government.
Under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act (FTPA), two thirds of MPs must back a motion to hold a snap general election. However, ministers may seek to get around that using a loophole that allows an election to be called with a simple majority if the government can pass a one-line bill.
Earlier, in a fiery address to MPs earlier, Mr Johnson called today’s legislation “Jeremy Corbyn’s Surrender Bill” and accused his critics of “running up the white flag”.
“I want to make clear to everybody in this House – there are no circumstances in which I will ever accept anything like it,” the Prime Minister said.
“I will never surrender the control of the negotiations in the way the leader of the opposition is demanding.”
The Prime Minister also threatened to throw out MPs who vote against any Brexit deal he does manage to secure at an EU summit on 17 October, telling the Commons: “I think you can take it that’s what sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.”
But a Number 10 spokesman would not fully confirm the threat when asked about it later by journalists, saying only that MPs would be “expected to pass that deal”.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Mr Johnson was leading a Government with “no mandate, no morals and, as of today, no majority”.
Phillip Lee, the MP for Bracknell, defected to the Lib Dems in the middle of Mr Johnson’s statement, issuing a statement accusing the government of “using political manipulation, bullying and lies” to try and force through the most damaging form of Brexit.
Leading Tory rebels including the former Justice Secretary David Gauke were called to meet Mr Johnson yesterday afternoon in a last-ditch attempt to prevent a defeat, but reports suggest the encounter was an angry one in which the Prime Minister accused them of “handing power over to a junta that includes Jeremy Corbyn”.
One of the Tory rebels, the former chancellor Philip Hammond, laid bare the depth of division within the Conservative Party ahead of the vote, accusing Downing Street of “rank hypocrisy” for threatening to expel MPs, and calling Mr Johnson’s senior advisors, including his top strategist Dominic Cummings, as “incomers and entryists”.
Mr Hammond, who was formally reselected as candidate by the local party in his Runnymede and Weybridge constituency on Monday night, warned of the “fight of a lifetime” if officials attempt to prevent him from standing at the next general election as a Conservative.
Steve Baker, the former Brexit minister who was reappointed yesterday as chairman of the powerful European Research Group of Brexiteer Tory MPs, said he would support an electoral pact between the Conservatives and Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party if an election took place before the UK leaves the EU.
“If we have an election before we have left the European Union, and the Brexit party think that we are heading in a direction which does not deliver our independence from the EU, then they will stand candidates virtually everywhere,” Mr Baker said. “That’s why I’ve said we need to have some sort of accommodation with them but we are not quite at that bridge yet.”
The Prime Minister hinted in his remarks in the Commons that a solution to the crisis over the Irish border backstop could be found by recognising the need for checks to agri-food products crossing the Irish Sea between Britain and Northern Ireland.
The Irish Government confirmed Mr Johnson would be visiting on Monday for talks with the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar. On a visit to Dublin, US Vice President Mike Pence called on the Irish Government to negotiate with the UK in “good faith” and seek a Brexit deal that does not disrupt trade.