MPs vote against Boris Johnson's plan for pre-Christmas general election

28 October 2019, 19:00

MPs vote against government's election plan
MPs vote against government's election plan. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The government has suffered another defeat after Boris Johnson's bid for a 12 December general election was quashed in the House of Commons.

A total of 299 MPs voted for Boris Johnson's plan under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act to hold an election on 12 December, whereas 70 voted against the government.

However, this falls short of the two-thirds majority needed by the UK leader under the FTPA by 135 votes.

Labour abstained as expected with Jeremy Corbyn being unwilling to support the prime minister until No Deal was ruled out.

Mr Johnson needed 434 MPs to agree to his set date which could have allowed Brexit to take place prior to a nationwide ballot.

However, Monday's defeat means the government will now put forward a single line Bill to amend the FTPA on Tuesday that will propose an election on the same date of 12 December, but will only require a simple majority of 320 votes in the Commons.

The proposal was originally put forward by the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party, however that was to hold an election on 9 December.

A Downing Street source said they would not put the Withdrawal Agreement Bill back in front of the Commons as a way to keep the Lib Dems and SNP on side.

The government later confirmed planning for No Deal under Operation Yellowhammer had been stood down.

Prior to the vote, the prime minister argued the current Parliament had "run its course."

He said: "I simply do not believe that this House is capable of delivering on the priorities of the people, whether that means Brexit or anything else."

Earlier on Monday the EU agreed to a flexible extension of Article 50 to 31 January 2020 - which will enable the UK to leave if the Withdrawal Agreement Bill becomes law - meaning the UK will no longer be leaving the bloc on Mr Johnson's "do or die" date of 31 October.

As a result the Lib Dems and the SNP, who also opposed the government, will instead work together to push for a 9 December election now the EU have granted an extension.

They will argue for a tightly drafted single line Bill to be put forward on Tuesday that amends the FTPA and instead requires a simple majority of 320 MPS that could receive support from the Conservatives.

However, Tory ministers and party members are split on whether to push for an election before Brexit has been concluded.

Mr Corbyn said his party would "consider carefully" legislation that locks in the date of an election, suggesting he could support the 9 December plan.

A Number 10 source said the government will introduce an "almost identical" Bill to the plans put forward by the Lib Dems and the SNP.

However, any amendments made by the Conservatives would need to be analysed by the pro-Remain parties to ensure the Bill contains protections against No Deal.

The Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson said she wanted to stop Mr Johnson from "ramming through his Brexit Bill" and remove any "wriggle room" he had around his proposals.

She also argued keeping the election date as far away from Christmas as possible would be in the best interest of the economy and would be a more appropriate date for students leaving university towns.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said the government would "always look at every single option" when asked about Ms Swinson's proposal but added "the best way [to get an election] is to vote for the motion tonight."

However, the timetable for an election on either date is extremely tight.

With the 9 December date, legislation would need to be passed through Parliament by Thursday evening this week and Parliament would be dissolved at one minute past midnight on Friday.

Therefore, the deadline for candidates to submit their nomination papers would be 11 November, the deadline to register to vote would be 20 November and the deadline for postal votes would be the following day.

The prime minister planned to restart moves to get his Withdrawal Agreement Bill passed into law if he won Monday's vote in the Commons.

But the defeat becomes Boris Johnson's third loss in Parliament on the issue of a general election.

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