Belfast Telegraph

Boris Johnson's Government loses majority as MP defects to Lib Dems - PM says Brexit delay would 'destroy' chance of deal

Boris Johnson's Conservative Government has lost its working majority after MP Phillip Lee quit to join the Liberal Democrats.

His defection means Boris Johnson's Government can no longer command a majority, even with the support of the DUP's ten MPs.

The surprise move came as the PM addressed the House of Commons after MPs returned from summer recess on Tuesday.

MPs debated an application for an emergency debate on the UK's departure from the EU in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

The motion, which passed with a majority of 27, will allow the cross-party group to control the Commons business on Wednesday, guaranteeing time to debate a new law to block a no-deal Brexit.

The legislation put forward by a cross-party group, led by the Labour MP and Brexit Select Committee chairman Hilary Benn and Tory former Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt would require a delay to Brexit unless there was a deal or Parliament explicitly backed leaving the EU without one by October 19.

Mr Johnson said the legislation aimed at blocking a no-deal Brexit would "force me to go to Brussels and beg an extension" and "destroy any chance" of negotiating an agreement.

The Prime Minister said he would be discussing the Irish border issues with Leo Varadkar in Dublin on Monday.

Mr Johnson insisted he would never "surrender" control of the Brexit negotiations to Brussels, in reference to the legislation aimed at blocking a no-deal Brexit on October 31.

"It would enable our friends in Brussels to dictate the terms of the negotiation. That's what it does. There is only one way to describe this deal: it is Jeremy Corbyn's surrender bill.

Phillip Lee (centre standing right) takes his seat among Liberal Democrat MPs as Prime Minister Boris Johnson makes a statement to MPs. Photo credit: PA Wire
Phillip Lee (centre standing right) takes his seat among Liberal Democrat MPs as Prime Minister Boris Johnson makes a statement to MPs. Photo credit: PA Wire

"It means running up the white flag... I want to make clear to everybody in this House there are no circumstances in which I will ever accept anything like it.

"I will never surrender the control of our negotiations in the way the Leader of the Opposition is demanding."

Mr Johnson, updating the House of Commons on last month's G7 summit, said he told EU leaders that the Government wants to secure a Brexit deal.

He told MPs: "I was also able to use the G7 to follow up my conversations in Berlin and Paris with Chancellor Merkel and President Macron on Brexit, as well as with Prime Minister Conte, Prime Minister Sanchez and President Tusk.

"I have since spoken to Commission President Juncker and many other leaders and I was able to make clear to them all that everyone in this Government wants a deal... but it is a reality that the House of Commons has rejected the current Withdrawal Agreement three times and it simply cannot be resurrected and that is why I wrote to President Tusk."

Mr Johnson insisted the chances of a deal "have risen" in recent weeks.

Phillip Lee (Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament)
Phillip Lee (Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament)

He said he wrote to European Council president Donald Tusk on August 19 to set out "our arguments" why any future agreement must see the "abolition of the anti-democratic backstop".

"We've also been clear that we will need changes to the political declaration to clarify that our future relationship with the EU will be based on a free trade agreement and giving us full control over our regulations, our trade and our foreign and defence policy," he continued.

"This clarity has brought benefits. Far from jeopardising negotiations it has made them more straightforward.

"In the last few weeks I believe the chances of a deal have risen.

"This week we are intensifying the pace of meetings in Brussels. Our European friends can see that we want an agreement and they're beginning to reflect that reality in their response."

Jeremy Corbyn accused the PM of leading a Government with no mandate, morals or majority.

The Labour leader said MPs must stop the PM from "riding roughshod" over the constitution so that a "cabal" in Downing Street can "crash us out without a deal".

"He isn't winning friends in Europe, he's losing friends at home. His is a Government with no mandate, no morals and, as of today, no majority," he added.

Mr Corbyn also criticised the PM's claim Parliament was going to "surrender" by trying to block no-deal.

"I condemn the rhetoric the Prime Minister used when he talked about a 'surrender bill'. I hope he will reflect on his use of language," the Labour leader said.

"We are not surrendering because we are at war with Europe. They are surely our partners. If anything, it is a no-deal exit that would mean surrendering our industry, our jobs, surrendering our standards of protections in a trade deal with Donald Trump and the United States."

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