The simmering showdown between UK prime minister Boris Johnson and the parliament over Brexit has come to a head as lawmakers delivered three defeats to the government’s plans for leaving the European Union.
This was before being sent home early on Tuesday for a contentious five-week suspension of the legislature.
In a session that ran well past midnight, parliament enacted a law to block a no-deal Brexit next month, ordered the government to release private communications about its Brexit plans, and rejected Mr Johnson’s call for a snap election to break the political deadlock.
Parliament was then suspended – or prorogued – at the government’s request until October 14, a drastic move that gives Mr Johnson a respite from rebellious lawmakers as he plots his next move.
Opponents accuse him of trying to avoid democratic scrutiny. What is usually a solemn, formal prorogation ceremony erupted into raucous scenes as opposition lawmakers in the House of Commons chamber shouted “Shame on you” and held up signs reading “Silenced”.
Parliament’s suspension ended a day of blows to the embattled Mr Johnson. First an opposition-backed measure designed to stop Britain from crashing out of the EU on October 31 without a divorce deal became law after receiving the formal assent of the Queen. The law compels the government to ask the EU for a three-month delay if no deal has been agreed by October 19.
Mr Johnson says the country’s delayed exit must happen at the end of October, with or without a divorce agreement to smooth the way. But many lawmakers fear a no-deal Brexit would be economically devastating, and are determined to stop him.
“I will not ask for another delay,” Mr Johnson said. But he has few easy ways out of it. His options – all of them extreme – include disobeying the law, which could land him in court or even prison, and resigning so that someone else would have to ask for a delay.
Legislators also demanded the government release, by Wednesday, emails and text messages among aides and officials relating to suspending parliament and planning for Brexit amid allegations that the suspension is being used to circumvent democracy.
Under parliamentary rules, the government is obliged to release the documents.
In a statement, the government said it would “consider the implications of this vote and respond in due course”.
Then, early on Tuesday, lawmakers rebuffed – for a second time – Mr Johnson’s request for an early election, which he said was “the only way to break the deadlock in the House”.
Opposition parties voted against the measure or abstained, denying Mr Johnson the two-thirds majority he needed. They want to make sure a no-deal departure is blocked before agreeing to an election.
“We’re eager for an election, but as keen as we are we, we are not prepared to inflict the disaster of a no-deal on our communities, our jobs, our services, or indeed our rights,” Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said.
Mr Johnson acknowledged on Monday that a no-deal Brexit “would be a failure of statecraft” for which he would be partially to blame.
The EU says Britain has not produced any concrete proposals for replacing the contentious “backstop,” a provision in the withdrawal agreement reached by Mr Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May that is designed to ensure an open border between EU member Ireland and the UK’s Northern Ireland.