UK lawmakers vote in bid to frustrate no-deal Brexit

LONDON (AFP) – British Members of Parliament (MPs) on Thursday backed a measure that would frustrate any attempt to force through a no-deal Brexit by suspending Parliament, helped by several rebel members of the governing Conservatives.

The measure, which passed by 315 votes to 274, is a major setback for former London mayor Boris Johnson, who is expected to be named Prime Minister next Wednesday and has said he would be prepared to lead Britain into a no-deal Brexit.

The government had called for MPs to vote against the measure, but 17 Conservative legislators supported it and dozens more abstained, including Finance Minister Philip Hammond.

“The Prime Minister is obviously disappointed that a number of ministers failed to vote,” a spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May’s Downing Street office said.

“No doubt her successor will take this into account when forming their government,” he said.

Margot James, a junior government minister for the digital economy, resigned to vote in favour of the law.

Conservative party leadership candidate Boris Johnson delivers his speech during a Conservative leadership hustings at ExCel Centre in London. – PHOTOS: AP
People aboard a boat make way past the Houses of Parliament with Big Ben’s clock tower, the Elizabeth Tower, covered in scaffolding for repairs in London

The scale of the rebellion within the Conservative Party demonstrates the challenge that Johnson would face if he pursues a hardline Brexit agenda once in power.

Catherine Haddon, from the Institute for Government think-tank, said the vote was “a big show of intent” that did not clearly rule out a suspension of Parliament.

Sky News television earlier cited sources close to Johnson saying he could call a new session of Parliament, which would require its temporary suspension, in order to prevent MPs from attempting to block a no-deal Brexit.

The vote was on an amendment to legislation relating to Northern Ireland and requires Parliament to meet on a regular basis to discuss the progress of talks on restoring the Northern Ireland Assembly, which collapsed in 2017.

The legislation now needs to go to the Upper House of Lords for approval.

Hilary Benn, an MP from the main opposition Labour Party who put forward the amendment, said it was important that Parliament should be sitting at a “crucial time for our country”.

“I don’t think we could accept circumstances, if I may coin the phrase, in which we were sent missing in action.”

Britain is currently scheduled to leave the European Union (EU) on October 31 unless an extension is agreed.

Johnson has said he will push for a new deal with Brussels but would be prepared to lead Britain out of the bloc with no overall agreement in place if not.

Business leaders have warned about the prospect of serious economic disruption in the case of a no-deal Brexit and the government’s official forecaster on Thursday warned it could trigger a year-long recession.