(CN) – The United Kingdom was plunged into more political chaos and a deepening impasse on Wednesday after the House of Commons blocked Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plans on Brexit and then shot down his call for new elections.
On Wednesday, the Parliament backed a bill that aims to stop Johnson from leaving the European Union without a deal on Oct. 31. That bill is now headed for approval in the House of Lords, where pro-Brexit members are attempting to derail the legislation by adding dozens of amendments and filibustering.
After the bill was approved in the House, Johnson called on Parliament to hold elections on Oct. 15. In the evening, the House voted against holding an election before Oct. 31, the date when the U.K. is slated to leave the EU.
Two-thirds of Parliament needed to support holding snap elections. Opposition parties abstained during the voting and that left Johnson’s motion failing to obtain enough votes to pass.
Opposition parties said they were willing to hold elections only after they were sure that the U.K. was not at risk of leaving the EU without a deal.
For that to happen, the bill they passed Wednesday would have to become law by being approved by the House of Lords and obtaining royal assent, which is formal approval by the monarchy. The Labour Party also said it would not support new elections until the EU has agreed to push back the Brexit deadline.
Earlier in the day, Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, said Johnson’s offer to hold an election now was “a bit like an offer of an apple to Snow White from the Wicked Queen.” He said it was “offering the poison of a no deal.”
After being denied an election, Johnson attacked Corbyn, who was not in the chamber to respond.
“Forty-eight hours ago he was leading the chant of ‘stop the coup, let the people vote,’” Johnson said. “Now he’s saying, ‘stop the election, let’s stop the people from voting.’”
The prime minister added: “I think he has become the first leader of the opposition in the democratic history of our country to refuse the invitation to an election. I can only speculate as to the reason behind his hesitation. The obvious conclusion is that he does not think he will win.”
Johnson said elections were necessary after the House blocked him from leaving the EU without a deal. Johnson said removing the threat of leaving the EU without a deal “scuppers any serious negotiations.”
Johnson insists he can get the EU to change its stance on a crucial sticking point over the future status of Northern Ireland and he argues his bargaining powers are strengthened by threatening to leave the EU without a deal.
The EU, though, says it is not willing to renegotiate the terms of the withdrawal agreement it hammered out with former Prime Minister Theresa May. Under that deal, Northern Ireland is to stay closely aligned with the EU unless a future trade agreement can be worked out.
His critics charge that Johnson is feigning when he talks about striking a new deal and that he has no chance of winning concessions from the EU. Instead, they argue, Johnson is really bent on leaving without a deal and doing so by running down the clock.
Johnson became prime minister at the end of July on a promise to leave the EU “do or die” on Oct. 31.
Twenty-one Tory parliamentarians, including several long-time and stalwart members like Ken Clarke and Winston Churchill’s grandson Nicholas Soames, opposed Johnson even though they were warned about being pushed out of the party if they voted against Johnson.
The bill Parliament voted for Wednesday forced Johnson to ask for Brexit to be delayed until Jan. 31 unless Parliament has approved a new deal or voted in favor of leaving the EU without a deal, which a majority in Parliament is against.
Johnson and other pro-Brexit members of the Tory party argue that Britain must leave the EU on Oct. 31, even if that means doing so without first spelling out the terms of the divorce in a deal. Johnson took over the premiership after Parliament rejected the wide-ranging deal May struck with the EU. Under that deal, the U.K. and the EU would maintain close ties.
Though May’s deal fractured Parliament, economists warn that leaving without a deal could lead to economic disaster. Under such a scenario, there are concerns that there could be food and medicine shortages, widespread disruption to commerce, frayed political relationships with Europe, and the possibility of a return to border checks between Ireland and Northern Ireland, which in turn could threaten peace in the volatile region.
Crucially, May and the EU agreed that Northern Ireland would remain closely aligned with the EU’s rules, laws and customs in the event that a future trade agreement cannot be worked out between the U.K. and the EU.
Keeping Northern Ireland aligned to the EU is seen as critical to ensure that a border is not erected between Northern Ireland and Ireland, thus allowing the free flow of commerce and people to continue without disruption.
The EU has said it will not change its position on the Northern Irish border. British media reported that negotiations between Johnson and the EU over the border were not progressing well.
Johnson and others who want Britain to make a clean break with the EU warn that keeping Northern Ireland aligned to the EU would in turn leave the rest of the U.K. also closely tied to the EU. They argue that such an arrangement betrays the will of the 52% of voters who backed leaving the EU in the 2016 Brexit referendum.
Opponents, though, say the dilemma and impasse over Brexit is so bad that the U.K. should hold a second referendum to determine the country’s future. They argue that voters cast ballots in the referendum not fully aware of what leaving the EU would mean and that now, after more than three years of debate, voters are better informed.
(Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.)