Brexit: What happens next after MPs rejected Boris Johnson’s general election?

MPs voted against the Prime Minister's call for a snap election. Picture; PA
MPs voted against the Prime Minister's call for a snap election. Picture; PA
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Boris Johnson’s plan all along, many suspect, was to goad the House of Commons into passing what he calls the “surrender bill” so he could reject it and call an early General Election.

Yet this plan has not unfolded in quite the way he wished.

As Prime Minister, the Hilary Benn’s Brexit delay bill, which was approved in the Commons on Wednesday night, means that he would have to go to Brussels and request an extension to the 31 October deadline.

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Mr Johnson has made clear he will refuse to do so, and yet also says he will abide by the rule of law.

Upholding rule of law

He has deliberately boxed himself into a corner leaving him with no option but to call an election to break out of it.

As Mr Benn told Mr Johnson night, after the Labour MP’s bill passed in the Commons: “This house expects him to uphold the law.”

And yet, because of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, Mr Johnson required two thirds of MPs to back his motion for an election on 15 October.

His plan has run into difficulty because Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour and other opposition parties see this as a trap – that would give voters an election without any guarantee that no deal could be

stopped.

Now that they have resisted the call for an early election before Brexit Day, it is Mr Johnson who is trapped.

Boris Johnson’s 3 options

The Prime Minister has few options at his disposal.

The first is that he could resign within days – and become the shortest-reigning inhabitant of Downing Street ever.

No. 10 officials on Wednesday made clear that would not happen.

It is, indeed, highly unlikely that the man who has dreamt of being PM since childhood would give up at the first sign of trouble.

The second is that he could use an alternative legislative mechanism to trigger an election – a simple one line government bill that says notwithstanding the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, there should be an election. This would require a simple majority of one, rather than two-thirds of MPs.

et, given the widespread opposition to the Prime Minister’s current plan, even this endeavour could fail.

The third way out is that the House of Lords, which must also approve Mr Benn’s bill, blocks the legislation, either through endless amendments or filibustering. Mr Johnson is running out of options, and this could be his final chance.

It would be a bad look for unelected peers to rescue him at this stage – but, from his point of view, it would get him the result he wants.

If the Lords block the Benn bill, we are all back to square one: parliamentary deadlock, and a no deal becoming ever more likely.

This article also features on our sister site the i.