- UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been dealt a crushing blow to his authority after MPs wrestled control of Parliament and moved to block a no-deal Brexit.
- In a dramatic Commons vote, 21 Conservative rebels voted with opposition MPs to take control of the order paper on Wednesday.
- Johnson’s opponents on Wednesday are expected to try to rush the legislation through the House of Commons and the House of Lords before Johnson shuts down Parliament.
- If the legislation passes, a defeated Johnson would most likely ask MPs to support a general election.
- Here’s everything you need to know.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
LONDON – The UK House of Commons is set for a dramatic showdown Wednesday afternoon as opposition MPs and a handful of Conservative rebels attempt to pass a bill that would delay Brexit until at least 2020.
Twenty-one rebel Conservative MPs were expelled from the party when they joined forces with Labour and other opposition parties on Tuesday evening to seize control of the parliamentary agenda on Wednesday afternoon.
They will next attempt to pass a bill that would delay Brexit until at least January 2020, with the prime minister responding that he would table a motion for a general election instead.
What does this all mean?
The cross-party group of MPs have used a motion, called SO24, that gives them time to debate a law that would force the prime minister to seek a Brexit delay if he fails to secure a deal with the European Union by October 31, when the UK is scheduled to leave.
The motion was backed by a majority of MPs, meaning that on Wednesday the bill designed to block a no-deal exit would be tabled in the name of Hilary Benn and Alistair Burt, MPs from the Labour and Conservative parties who are leading the no-deal opposition.
Bills are the mechanism by which important legislation enters the UK statute books. Usually, bills take weeks to be approved by the House of Commons and the House of Lords, but this process would need to be forced through in as little as three days.
That is because UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has moved to suspend Parliament starting next week, a move apparently designed to prevent lawmakers from moving to delay Brexit.
The bill is set to be presented at 3 p.m. GMT. It should race through the first, second, and third stages of reading in the Commons by Wednesday evening. At that point, it would head to the House of Lords, where it could face roadblocks from Conservative peers who support Brexit.
If all goes to plan, though, the bill will be passed into law on Monday next week.
How will Boris Johnson react?
Johnson has insisted there are “no circumstances” under which he will ask for Brexit to be delayed, with aides insisting that he will instead seek a general election.
A senior government official confirmed on Monday that Downing Street would treat the bill as a confidence vote. In other words, the government’s failure to defeat the bill would mean it no longer enjoyed the confidence of the Commons, meaning Johnson would have little other choice than to seek a general election.
“If Conservative MPs help him to make no deal illegal tomorrow and therefore create another pointless delay, the government’s negotiating position will be wrecked,” the official said.
“In those circumstances, what MPs will effectively be voting for is to hold a rapid election.”
Downing Street would first seek an election by bringing forward a motion for an early general election under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act. Under the terms of the law, two-thirds of MPs – that is, 434 – would need to support the prime minister’s plan.
That means a big chunk of Labour MPs would need to support the plan. Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, has indicated he will instruct his MPs to support a general election but not until the legislation designed to block a no-deal Brexit has passed.
“We want a general election, as do all the other parties,” Corbyn said on Tuesday.
“The priority is to prevent a no-deal exit from the EU on 31 October and we’ll see what comes after that.”
Shami Chakrabarti, Labour’s shadow attorney general, told Sky News on Tuesday that the party was also concerned with ensuring that Johnson couldn’t change the date of an election midway through the campaign, which some MPs think Johnson would consider.
Labour could therefore hand Johnson a problem. If Labour MPs do reject the plan, Downing Street could pass a motion of no confidence in itself. That act would trigger an early general election after 14 days if no alternative government can command the confidence of a majority of MPs, which is unlikely given factional divisions among opposition MPs.
Johnson, whose tactics since he took office have been to goad his opponents and terrify them into submission, did not plan for it to be like this. The question is whether he can find a way out.
“I’m not convinced he’s going to get his way,” one Conservative MP who rebelled against the government Tuesday told Business Insider. “I think he’ll be boxed in by the end of this week.”
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.