That’s certainly one way to set off “an elephant trap,” although the dramatic moment may have taken Boris Johnson off-guard. In the middle of the prime minister’s opening speech to Parliament, a Tory MP walked across the room to join the Liberal Democrats, wiping out the Conservatives’ one-seat coalition majority.
This is the moment Boris Johnson lost his working majority in UK Parliament.
— CNN (@CNN) September 3, 2019
What comes next? The election that Johnson wants, most likely, but …
Boris Johnson has lost his majority in the Commons after the Tory MP Dr Phillip Lee crossed the floor to sit with the Liberal Democrats.
It came after the leading Tory rebel Philip Hammond confirmed he would vote for legislation designed to block a no-deal Brexit and claimed “there will be enough people for us to get this over the line today”.
No 10 officials have indicated Boris Johnson will call a general election for 14 October if he loses today’s crunch vote. Jeremy Corbyn said: “Labour wants to prevent a no-deal Brexit, and to have a general election”.
Lee’s defection makes the passage of a bill forcing a three-month delay in a no-deal Brexit more likely. Johnson warned earlier, though, that any such bill would be viewed by his government as a confidence vote. Johnson told the press that he’d call elections before “cutting the legs out from under” his negotiators, whom he claimed were making progress in getting the EU to cut a deal:
— Reuters (@Reuters) September 3, 2019
An election won’t be entirely Johnson’s call, Reuters notes. After reforms passed several years ago, snap elections require parliamentary supermajorities. It’s possible that Johnson’s opposition could organize to deprive him of a majority and attempt to form their own government instead. That’s not a likely scenario, but perhaps still a possible strategy:
In the eye of the Brexit maelstrom, it was unclear if opposition parties would support a move to call an election – which requires the support of two-thirds of the 650-seat House of Commons. …
As Johnson played Brexit chess with lawmakers, opponents cast his tactics as undemocratic, including an order to suspend parliament for more than a month beginning next week. That has been followed by his threat to kick rebels out of the ruling party, including ministers who left the cabinet just weeks ago.
“I think we will have the numbers,” one of the rebels, Conservative former finance minister Philip Hammond, said. “Prime Minister Johnson has always intended that there will be an election.”
The rebel alliance will put forward an emergency motion for a vote on Tuesday allowing its members to seize control of the parliamentary agenda the following day to try to pass legislation that would force Johnson to seek a three-month delay to Britain’s EU exit.
Johnson raised the stakes, however, effectively turning it into a confidence vote by making clear that if the government were defeated, it would hold a vote on Wednesday to approve an early election, most likely to be held on Oct. 14.
It’s possible that an anti-Boris coalition could form that excludes Jeremy Corbyn from leadership, but only if Corbyn himself assures people that he won’t claim the PM job. It would still be a miserable affair, with many Leavers justifiably angry over a last-minute parliamentary block to their project and others divided between Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement or rejecting Brexit altogether. That kind of Frankenstein-monster coalition would be dead before it ever got moving. It would only accelerate the need for elections and might make Johnson even more popular in comparison.
In the meantime, Johnson now has a new problem — running a minority government. That will impact his ability to negotiate with the EU too, as they may decide to wait out an election before making any concessions that may not later be necessary. Perhaps sensing this, Johnson finally RSVP’d back to Dublin today to answer an invitation extended by Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar some time ago:
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to meet with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Dublin next Monday, Independent.ie understands.
Sources in Dublin said they are “very happy” that Mr Johnson has finally taken up an invitation issued by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
The Prime Minister confirmed his intention to discuss Brexit with face-to-face with the Taoiseach during a rowdy debate in the House of Commons.
If Johnson’s going to pull an Irish-border solution rabbit out of his hat, this is the time to do it. If he takes the Tories into an election without a comprehensive solution to that issue, that elephant trap might work out differently than he plans.