Brexit vote result: Rebel MPs defy threats from Boris Johnson in vote against no-deal

MPs vote by 328 to 301 in crushing blow to Boris Johnson's EU withdrawal plans

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Tuesday 03 September 2019 23:10
House of Commons votes 328 to 301 to approve the emergency debate motion on European Union

Rebel MPs have defied threats from Boris Johnson to vote through a motion paving the way for legislation to block a no-deal Brexit.

MPs voted to seize control of the Commons agenda on Wednesday afternoon in order to force through a bill requiring the prime minister to request an extension in Brexit talks to 31 January unless he secures a deal with Brussels or parliamentary approval for no deal by 19 October.

The government’s defeat by a margin of 328 to 301 leaves Mr Johnson’s Brexit strategy in tatters by potentially robbing him of the threat of no-deal, which he has repeatedly said is essential to obtain concessions from the EU.

Responding from the despatch box immediately after the crushing result, Mr Johnson confirmed he is tabling a bill to trigger a general election, with a vote expected to take place soon after the anti-no deal bill completes its passage through the Commons on Wednesday.

He said the vote meant parliament was “on the brink of wrecking any deal we might be able to strike in Brussels” by handing control of negotiations to the EU.

“Since I refuse to go along with that plan ... If the House votes for this bill tomorrow, the public will have to choose who goes to Brussels on 17 October to sort this out and take this country forward,” he said.

But Mr Johnson’s plans seemed doomed to failure after Labour indicated that it will not back his election motion, which requires a two-thirds majority and is therefore dependent on opposition support to pass through the Commons, until the legislation to stop no deal is passed.

Mr Corbyn told him: “Get the bill through first in order to take no deal off the table.”

A Downing Street source confirmed that the party whip was being withdrawn from MPs who failed to back the PM - including grandees like former chancellors Kenneth Clarke and Philip Hammond as well as Sir Winston Churchill’s grandson Sir Nicholas Soames.

Chief whip Mark Spencer was talking to 21 Tory rebels, who are also set to be barred from standing as Conservative candidates at the next election. They also included members of Theresa May’s cabinet Greg Clark, David Gauke, Rory Stewart and Justine Greening as well as Guto Bebb, Richard Benyon, Steve Brine, Alistair Burt, Dominic Grieve, Sam Gyimah, Stephen Hammond, Richard Harrington, Margot James, Sir Oliver Letwin, Anne Milton, Caroline Nokes, Antoinette Sandbach and Ed Vaizey.

Any Tories who abstained in the vote will also lose the whip, in a move which leaves Mr Johnson at least 43 votes short of a majority in the Commons, even with the support of his Democratic Unionist Party allies.

A source close to the group which has lost the whip said: “Tonight’s decisive result is the first stop in a process to avert an undemocratic and damaging no deal.

“No 10 have responded by removing the whip from two former chancellors, a former lord chancellor and Winston Churchill’s grandson. What has happened to the Conservative Party?”

If it clears the Commons as expected on Wednesday, the “rebel alliance” bill faces stiff resistance in the House of Lords, where Tory peers are understood to have tabled more than 90 amendments in a bid to prevent it completing its passage by the end of the week.

Meanwhile, some 18 Labour backers of EU withdrawal have tabled an amendment in the Commons which would revive proposals raised in cross-party talks involving Theresa May, based on her own deal which was rejected three times by the Commons.

The Labour leader in the Commons yesterday

The dramatic vote came after Mr Johnson lost his remaining one-vote majority in the Commons as Remain-supporting former minister Phillip Lee crossed the floor to join the Liberal Democrat benches while the PM was on his feet delivering a statement on last month’s G7 summit.

Moving the emergency motion, Sir Oliver said that MPs must take their last chance to secure a parliamentary block on the government taking the UK into a no-deal Brexit, which he said represented “a threat to our prosperity and our Union”.

Despite Mr Johnson’s claims of progress in talks with Brussels, there was only a “slender” chance of the government reaching a deal at the 17 October summit of the European Council or ratifying it by the 31 October deadline, said Sir Oliver.

Speaker John Bercow faced repeated challenges from Tory Eurosceptics to his decision to allow MPs to vote on a substantive motion in a rarely-used parliamentary procedure.

But he won cheers from the opposition benches as he borrowed some of Mr Johnson’s own catchphrases to say that he would “facilitate the House of Commons … Come what may, do or die”.

Leader of the Commons and arch-Eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg branded the motion “arrogant” and “unconstitutional” and insisted that the rebels’ aim was to “deny Brexit” and create “a marionette government in which there is only nominal confidence”.

Mr Rees-Mogg said: “Parliament sets itself against the people. Sovereignty comes from the people to parliament, it doesn’t come to parliament out of a void.

“If parliament tries to challenge the people, this stretches the elastic of our constitution near to breaking point. We should recognise that the people are our masters and show us to be their lieges and servants not place ourselves in the position of their overlords.”

Welcoming the result of the vote, Mr Corbyn said: “There is no consent in this House to leave the European Union without a deal. There is no majority for no deal in the country.

“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.

“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.”

Downing Street declined to confirm that Mr Johnson’s election motion would propose a nationwide poll on 14 October, as previously indicated. Reports suggested the motion to be moved tomorrow might instead specify 15 October.

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