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PM’s bid to trigger early election fails after hundreds of MPs abstain

MPs had approved a backbench Bill to delay Brexit in order to prevent a no-deal withdrawal from the EU on October 31.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)

By Harriet Line, PA Deputy Political Editor, and Sam Blewett, PA Political Correspondent

Boris Johnson’s snap general election plan has been roundly rejected after his bid to keep a no-deal Brexit on the table suffered a major blow.

The Prime Minister had called for a poll to be held on October 15 after legislation designed to prevent the UK crashing out of the EU on October 31 cleared the Commons.

But Labour and other opposition MPs refused to back the bid – which needed a two-thirds majority in the Commons – while the risk of a no-deal remained.

The Government failed to secure the support of two-thirds of MPs, with the Commons voting 298 to 55, 136 short of the number needed.

In a hint he could seek a further vote to force an election, Mr Johnson issued a direct plea to Jeremy Corbyn’s MPs as he accused him of being “the first Leader of the Opposition in the democratic history of our country to refuse the invitation to an election”.

“I urge his colleagues to reflect on what I think is the unsustainability of this position overnight and in the course of the next few days,” Mr Johnson told the Commons.

In a series of setbacks on the evening, MPs approved a backbench Bill to delay Brexit in order to prevent a no-deal withdrawal from the EU on October 31.

It cleared the Commons when it passed its third reading by 327 votes to 299, majority 28, and should now progress to the Lords.

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(PA Graphics)

That process, however, was being delayed by peers discussing the debate’s timetable into the night before being able to get onto the substance of the Bill.

In the Commons, there was confusion when an amendment seeking to give MPs a vote on Theresa May’s final Brexit deal was also passed – potentially paving the way for it to be put before MPs for the first time.

Labour MP Stephen Kinnock’s amendment was approved after tellers for those voting against the amendment were not put forward during voting.

A Government source said it was a “free vote so no one put tellers in”.

Mrs May’s final offer, the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, emerged from cross-party talks earlier this year, but was never put before Parliament because she was ousted as Tory leader.

It is understood Labour has received advice from lawyers stating that the amendment has no legal significance and would not place any obligations on the Government.

Tory former Cabinet minister Dame Caroline Spelman became the latest MP to rebel against the Government, when she backed the Bill at its second and third reading.

Although she will not have the party whip withdrawn, Dame Caroline said she will not stand as an MP in the next Parliament.

Mr Corbyn said the Bill must be passed through the Lords and have received Royal Assent before he would entertain the thought of heading to the polls.

He said: “Let the Bill pass and have Royal Assent and then we can have a general election.”

A Downing Street spokesman earlier said the PM would not resign to force a general election if the Government lost the Commons vote, telling a Westminster briefing: “He’s not going to step down. He wants an election.

“We will find a way to deliver on what the British people want, which is to deliver Brexit by October 31.

“If the PM cannot get the Bill through Parliament because Parliament is determined to wreck the negotiations, the only other option then is a general election.”

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson was facing continued criticism after Tory MPs – including two former chancellors and the grandson of Winston Churchill – had the party whip withdrawn because they rebelled by helping the effort to prevent a no-deal.

The PM defended the move, telling ITV’s Peston: “These are friends of mine and believe me I take absolutely no joy in any of it but it was very sad and surprising that they should choose to undermine the UK’s ability to get a deal.”

On Thursday, Mr Johnson has a busy schedule, including separate meetings with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and US Vice President Mike Pence in Downing Street.

PA

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