Boris Johnson accused Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party of “preposterous cowardice” after opposition MPs blocked the prime minister’s second attempt to hold a snap general election to break Britain’s Brexit impasse.
Mr Johnson’s defeat has left him at bay in Downing Street, after Labour and other opposition MPs refused to grant him the October 15 election he sought. With parliament suspended late on Monday night for five weeks, an election cannot now take place until November at the earliest.
Under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act Mr Johnson needed the backing of two-thirds of MPs, 434 in total, to secure an early election.
Many Labour MPs abstained in the vote at 12.30am, when only 293 voted for an election; 46 voted against. MPs also voted last week to block an election.
The prime minister promised to commit himself to trying to secure a revised Brexit deal at an EU summit on October 17-18, but angered MPs by suggesting that he could defy a new law by pressing ahead with a no-deal exit if he failed.
“This government will press on with negotiating a deal while preparing to leave without one,” he told MPs after the vote. “No matter how many devices this parliament devises to tie my hands I will strive to get an agreement in the national interest.”
Mr Corbyn told MPs that Labour would not back an election now if it meant risking Mr Johnson leading the country out of the EU on Halloween without a deal. He wants to wait until after Brexit is delayed before backing a poll.
Mr Johnson mocked Labour MPs for backing Mr Corbyn in opposing an election: “Most of them don’t want it because they fear he will lose. A small, terrified minority don’t want it because they’re terrified he might actually win.”
Last night’s sixth successive Commons defeat for Mr Johnson capped a calamitous seven days for the prime minister, in which MPs seized control of the Commons order paper and passed legislation designed to block a no-deal exit.
It also emerged on Monday that the Duke of Wellington, a Europhile hereditary Conservative peer descended from the victor of the Battle of Waterloo, had also quit the party.
There was further bad news on Monday as MPs passed a motion ordering Mr Johnson to release emails and phone records relating to no-deal Brexit planning and his decision to suspend, or prorogue, parliament for five weeks.
That prorogation, accompanied by an ancient ceremony including Norman French and the doffing of caps, was due to take effect early on Tuesday. Mr Johnson will be relieved that MPs will not return to Westminster until October 14, when the Queen will open a new session of parliament.
But before MPs left Westminster there was one further sting in the tail of the current parliamentary session: John Bercow, the Commons Speaker announced that he would be stepping down, but only after Mr Johnson’s proposed Brexit day of October 31.
The Speaker, accused by Tory Eurosceptics of bending parliamentary rules to allow MPs to challenge Brexit, was applauded by opposition MPs as he made the announcement, while ministers looked on stony-faced. Mr Bercow could yet play a pivotal role in Brexit in the coming weeks.
Mr Johnson has vowed not to delay Brexit beyond October 31, but the anti-no-deal legislation agreed by parliament received royal assent from the Queen at her Balmoral castle retreat in Scotland earlier on Monday.
Although the prime minister’s allies have hinted that he could break the law, or seek judicial review in the courts, the legislation requires him to seek a delay to Brexit until January 31 unless he secures an exit deal in Brussels.
On Monday, Mr Johnson promised Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar that he was determined to secure an EU deal and that a no-deal scenario would represent “a failure of statecraft”.
He also softened his position on the Irish backstop, confirming he was ready to leave Northern Ireland in the EU single market for food and agricultural purposes to reduce the need for checks at the Irish border.
Although the move has been rejected by Dublin and Brussels as insufficient, it confirmed Mr Johnson is starting to shift his position.
However, Downing Street insists that the prime minister is not proposing a full reversion to the EU’s original offer of a “Northern Ireland-only backstop”, which would leave the region in the EU single market and customs union, with new checks at the Irish Sea on trade with mainland Britain.