Britain’s Brexit-mired Johnson Likely to Lose Control of House of Commons

Opposition parties and Conservative rebels will make a bid Tuesday to seize control of the Home of Commons Order Paper — the day’s agenda — and begin legislating to block Prime Minister Boris Johnson from taking Britain out of the European Union on Oct. 31. Their chances were boosted when Johnson lost his working majority of one in the Commons when a Conservative rebel defected, joining an anti-Brexit opposition party. FILE – British Conservative MP Phillip Lee speaks to the media outside the Houses of Parliament, in Westminster, London, Britain, Feb. 20, 2019.The defection by former minister Phillip Lee to the Liberal Democrats ahead of a showdown between Johnson and Conservative rebels over Brexit has made it more likely that lawmakers will be able to thwart Johnson. Lee dramatically crossed the floor of the House to the opposition parties as Johnson addressed the Commons.Lee said the government was “pursuing a damaging Brexit in unprincipled ways,” putting lives and livelihoods at risk.Even if lawmakers succeed in thwarting Johnson, the Brexit endgame is far from over. An election sometime this year is the most likely outcome of the arcane parliamentary maneuvers this week, one that could see Britain’s storied Conservative Party split, with several former ministers, including a former deputy prime minister, forming a breakaway independent Conservative Party.It isn’t often that opposition parties seek to avoid a general election, but Johnson’s rivals met Monday and agreed to make as their priority the passing of legislation to prevent a so-called no-deal Brexit, rather than trying to oust the country’s minority Conservative government and trigger an election.On Sunday, Johnson declared that if lawmakers manage to tie his hands on Brexit, he will introduce a Commons motion Wednesday seeking parliamentary approval for an Oct. 14 election. He would need the backing of two-thirds of Britain’s 650 members of Parliament to trigger a poll. Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks in in the Parliament in London, Britain, Sept. 3, 2019, in this still image taken from Parliament TV footage.Pro-EU lawmakers, and others who fear the economic damage of a no-deal Brexit, say Johnson could subsequently shift the election to after Oct. 31, the date for Britain to leave the EU without a deal. That would snatch from the Commons the chance to thwart him by asking Brussels to extend the so-called Article 50 deadline set for Britain to relinquish membership of the EU.”All Liberal Democrat MPs will vote for the motion to take over the Order Paper tomorrow, and we will all be voting for the bill tomorrow to request an Article 50 extension,” Chuka Umunna, a former Labor Party lawmaker who defected to the Liberal Democrats, tweeted Sunday. “We will not however support a General Election if it would kibosh our ability to stop a No Deal Brexit.”Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labor Party who previously had wanted an early election, has also signed on to the unity move by the other opposition parties and Conservative rebels, saying, “We are working together to stop this government crashing out on the 31st of October.”United opponentsThe absence of division among the Brexit opponents makes it all but certain that the Johnson government will lose its control of parliamentary business, opening the way for Brexit opponents to shape blocking legislation Tuesday and Wednesday, binding Johnson’s hands and stopping Britain from crashing out without a deal from the EU. Johnson has pledged to take Britain out of the EU on Oct. 31, “no ifs or buts.”FILE – British Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond attends an interview during the G-7 finance ministers and central bank governors meeting in Chantilly, near Paris, France, July 18, 2019.Former Chancellor of the Exchequer and Conservative rebel Philip Hammond says there is enough support in the Commons to block a no-deal exit. Johnson has no working majority after the defection Monday of a rebel who joined the Liberal Democrats. Until then, Johnson had a majority of just one. At least 14 Conservative rebels have indicated they will vote to thwart Johnson.Hammond reacted angrily to the threat by Johnson to throw Conservative rebels out of the party.”This is my party. I have been a member of my party for 45 years. I am going to defend my party against incomers, entryists, who are trying to turn it from a broad church into a narrow faction,” he said.Opponents of a no-deal Brexit believe it would harm the economy, causing severe disruption to travel and supplies of food and medicine, and lead to the reintroduction of customs checks on the border separating British-ruled Northern Ireland from the Irish Republic. A series of secret government reports drafted in August suggested the fears aren’t misplaced.Cost of delayBrexiters insist, though, that any disruption would be short-lived, with the damage lessened with careful preparation and EU goodwill. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the BBC Monday that delaying “would create paralyzing uncertainty” and would “require the U.K. to accept any EU conditions, however punitive, however harsh, and regardless of those conditions, the price tag for the taxpayer would be £1 billion  each month.” Britain’s Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union Dominic Raab delivers his keynote address to the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, Britain, Oct. 1, 2018.He added that the opposition parties wanted “to cancel Brexit, and I think it scuppers the very positive progress we’ve had with the EU to get a deal.” Johnson insists that seeking to delay Brexit will undercut him in negotiations with the EU, which he says are progressing, to shape a new deal to replace a withdrawal agreement his predecessor, Theresa May, struck with Brussels nearly a year ago. Her withdrawal deal was rejected three times by the polarized House of Commons. EU leaders say no progress has been made in talks. Johnson also argues the 2016 Brexit referendum, in which a slim majority voted to leave the EU, must be observed. The high parliamentary drama playing out may strike some as dry and arcane. Both sides in the Brexit showdown have been invoking recondite parliamentary procedures to try to catch their opponents off balance. But the clash is over fundamental issues, including whether Parliament should have the upper hand or the government, and whether a referendum (direct democracy) trumps the will of Parliament.The outcome of the high-stakes parliamentary tussle this week over how, when and even whether Britain leaves the EU is redefining the relationship among the country’s main governing bodies, the House of Commons, Downing Street and the courts, constitutional experts say. It also risks dragging the queen into the saga.It is often said that Britain doesn’t have a written constitution. But in effect, it does. It just isn’t codified in one place but scattered across dozens of acts of Parliament, court rulings and in the parliamentary rulebook of conventions and precedents, known as Erskine May. Legal experts say both sides are stretching the norms and conventions to the breaking point and fraying the country’s traditional constitutional practices.The Brexit battle is also unraveling the mainstream political parties and giving rise to the emergence of new ones. Conservative rebels have accused Johnson of risking the destruction of the ruling party with his threat to throw them out.”I simply do not see the Conservative Party surviving in its current form, if we continue behaving like this towards each other,” said Dominic Grieve, who served as attorney general in the Conservative government of David Cameron. “This is now becoming a heavily ideological party being led in a way I don’t identify as being Conservative at all.”

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