Boris Johnson’s bid for a snap general election – to carry out a crash-out Brexit on 31 October if necessary – has failed, in another crushing Commons defeat.
MPs refused to give the prime minister the two-thirds majority necessary to bypass a law setting out that the next election should not take place until 2022.
The defeat – less than two hours after MPs passed a bill to block a no-deal Brexit – plunges Mr Johnson into a deeper crisis, just six weeks after taking office.
An election could yet be granted for his chosen date of 15 October if the bill becomes law by Tuesday, something which seemed increasingly likely after the Lords agreed a late-night deal to pass the bill by the end of Friday.
But Jeremy Corbyn is facing a growing Labour revolt to delay an election further. Mr Johnson branded the Labour leader “frit” and “a chlorinated chicken” for refusing to sanction the election the prime minister insisted was the only way out of the crisis.
Ordering his MPs to abstain – because the no-deal blocking bill has not yet passed – Mr Corbyn said: “The offer of an election today is like the offer of an apple to Snow White from the wicked Queen.
“Because what he is offering is not an apple, or even an election, but the poison of no deal.”
The government actually won the vote on an early election, by 298 votes to 56, but required a two-thirds majority to overturn the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.
After the result was revealed, the prime minister taunted his opponent, but gave no clue to his next move to try to break the paralysing Brexit impasse.
Mr Johnson said Mr Corbyn had refused to back an election despite previously “leading the chants to stop the coup and let people vote”.
“I can only speculate as to the reasons behind his hesitation. The obvious conclusion is that he does not think that he will win,” the prime minister claimed.
The crucial bill to avert no deal – to force Mr Johnson to seek a Brexit delay if no fresh agreement has been struck by 19 October – was debated in the House of Lords in a marathon session that ran until 1.30am. Several peers had arrived at work with duvets, extra clothes and toiletries to prepare for the dramatic battle.
And in a late-night blow to pro-Brexit Tory peers, who were plotting to kill off the bill by tabling more than 100 amendments to filibuster debate, the government said a deal had been struck with Labour to avoid the possibility of weekend sessions.
The Conservative chief whip, Lord Ashton of Hyde, said all stages of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill will be completed by 5pm on Friday, paving the way for the Commons to consider any amendments on Monday and prepare the bill for royal assent.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn is fighting a Labour revolt aimed at blocking an election until the EU has formally agreed to delay Brexit – which would postpone it until November at the earliest.
Keir Starmer, the party’s Brexit spokesman, is among key figures urging the Labour leader to toughen his current stance, which is to allow a snap election once the legislation has passed.
They fear that would not properly nail down an extension to Article 50, which requires the agreement of all 27 other EU countries, probably at a summit later in October.
They also believe holding back would leave Mr Johnson to “stew in his own juice”, as one put it – by being forced into the humiliation of seeking the delay to Brexit he has repeatedly ruled out.
But Mr Corbyn made clear his intention to win the battle, telling the Commons: “Let this bill pass, and gain royal assent, then we will back an election.”
The defeat came on a testing day for Mr Johnson, who put in a disastrous performance at Prime Minister’s Questions and endured fierce criticism at a meeting of Tory MPs.
He faced a growing backlash over his “night of the long knives” decision to expel 21 rebel Tories who backed the bill being brought forward – including heavyweights Ken Clarke, Philip Hammond and Rory Stewart.
At a meeting of the backbench 1922 committee, Mr Johnson was accused of blaming his chief whip for the decision, as he faced calls for a U-turn to resurrect their careers.
The voters also appeared to be turning against the hardline tactics, with 45 per cent viewing the decision to kick out the MPs as “undemocratic”, with only 32 per cent supporting it, a snap YouGov poll found.
The same survey also found the PM’s decision to suspend parliament for five weeks was seen as undemocratic by a similar margin of 46 per cent to 32 per cent.
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