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Prime Minister Boris Johnson tables motion for general election after losing vote

By Harriet Line

MPs last night defeated the Government in a crunch vote on Brexit which could block the Prime Minister from taking the UK out of the EU without a deal next month.

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Tory rebels defied the whip to join opposition MPs in supporting a bid to take control of the Commons agenda and pass legislation which would prevent a no-deal Brexit on October 31.

MPs voted by 328 votes to 301, a majority of 27.

The move would require the Prime Minister to seek a delay to Brexit until January 31 2020 if no agreement has been reached, and MPs have not approved a no-deal withdrawal.

After the Government's defeat, Mr Johnson said he will be tabling a vote on an early general election today. That has been put on the order paper and is due to be debated after 7pm. Two-thirds of MPs need to vote in favour of an election for one to be called.

Boris Johnson told MPs after losing his first vote: "The consequences of this vote tonight means that Parliament is on the brink of wrecking any deal that we might be able to get in Brussels.

"It will hand control of the negotiations to the EU."

He continued: "And by contrast, everyone will know that if I am Prime Minister, I will go to Brussels, I will go for a deal and I believe I will get a deal.

"And we will leave anyway, even if we don't (get a deal) we will leave anyway on October 31.

"The people of this country will have to choose.

"The leader of the opposition has been begging for an election for two years.

"He has thousands of supporters outside calling for an election. I don't want an election but if MPs vote tomorrow to stop negotiations and to compel another pointless delay to Brexit potentially for years then that would be the only way to resolve this.

"I can confirm that we are tonight tabling a motion under the Fixed Term Parliament Act."

John Bercow
John Bercow
Jeremy Corbyn
Jacob Rees-Mogg

It came after Mr Johnson's working majority in the Commons - relying on the support of the DUP - was wiped out when former minister Phillip Lee dramatically defected to the Liberal Democrats.

Dr Lee said: "This Conservative Government is aggressively pursuing a damaging Brexit in unprincipled ways."

In a sign of the bitter divisions within the Conservative ranks, former chancellor Philip Hammond accused Downing Street of "rank hypocrisy" and warned of the "fight of a lifetime" if officials attempt to prevent him from standing at the next general election as a Conservative candidate.

Mr Johnson told rebel MPs yesterday that a delay to Brexit would be an "extinction-level event", a Government spokesman said.

Dominic Grieve, who served as attorney general in David Cameron's government, said threats to withdraw the whip from any Tories voting against the Government demonstrated Mr Johnson's "ruthlessness" in power.

Ex-Cabinet minister Justine Greening said she would not stand as a Tory candidate at the next election, saying that a no-deal Brexit was "the most profoundly un-Conservative policy you could possibly have".

Ms Greening, Mr Hammond and Mr Grieve, as well as Tory veteran Ken Clarke, all joined opposition MPs in voting for the legislation designed to delay Brexit.

One of the key issues now is whether Labour would back Mr Johnson's call for an early election, pencilled in for October 14.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said it is fine for Mr Johnson to table a motion for a general election, but that no-deal must be removed as an option first.

Mr Corbyn said the Government must "get the Bill through first in order to take no-deal off the table".

He added: "We do not have a presidency, we have a Prime Minister who governs with the consensus of the House of Commons representing the people within whom the sovereignty rests."

The Labour leader said that there is no consent to leave the EU without a deal, saying: "There is no majority to leave without a deal within the country".

Mr Corbyn called on Mr Johnson to put his Brexit plan to the people, if he has one.

Under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act a two-thirds majority is required for an early election and critics have claimed Mr Johnson could seek to simply delay the date of the poll until after Brexit.

But Downing Street insisted that was wrong and there was no discretion over timing once Parliament has been dissolved.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman confirmed that if there was to be an election it would be held before the European Council summit of EU leaders on October 17. He said: "The Prime Minister does not want to hold an election. If, by destroying his negotiating position, MPs force an election, then that would take place before the October European Council."

Mr Johnson could take the unenviable title of shortest-serving British prime minister should he lose a snap election next month, falling short of George Canning's 119-day stint in 1827.

Shortly beforehand, the Irish Government said it is giving "top priority" to preparations for a no-deal Brexit.

The move came just hours after the European Commission said that a no-deal outcome remained a "distinct possibility".

The Irish Government statement said it had agreed to give no deal planning "top priority".

"It also discussed in detail the position on no-deal Brexit contingency mitigation and preparations and agreed that no-deal Brexit planning would continue to get top priority across all Government Department and Agencies," the statement reads.

"Notwithstanding the full range of preparations and mitigation measures in place, a no-deal Brexit risks potentially severe impacts in a number of areas, as summarised in the Updated Contingency Action Plan published by the Government in July."

The Irish government also agreed that all ministers should review preparations again, and should continue to engage in an extensive programme of outreach to stakeholders.

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