UK PM Boris Johnson (File)
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson lost his working Parliamentary majority ahead of a crucial Brexit vote on Tuesday after Conservative MP Phillip Lee defected to the pro-EU Liberal Democrats. "The Liberal Democrats are delighted to announce that Bracknell MP Phillip Lee has joined the party," the Liberal Democrats said in a statement.
The defection means that Johnson no longer has a working majority in Parliament. He said the government was "pursuing a damaging Brexit in unprincipled ways", putting lives and livelihoods at risk.
Speaking in the Commons, Johnson told MPs he wanted a negotiated exit from the EU and insisted there was "real momentum" behind the talks.
But he said plans by rebel Tory MPs to pass legislation effectively blocking a no-deal exit on October 31 would "destroy any chance of negotiating a new deal".
Philip Lee defected just minutes before Johnson took to the despatch box at the House of Commons for his first parliamentary confrontation with MPs after a long summer recess. The MP for Bracknell conspicuously took his seat on the Opposition benches as Johnson began addressing the Commons.
"The party I joined in 1992 is not the party I am leaving today," he said in the statement, accusing his former party of "political manipulation, bullying and lies".
The former justice minister said the government was "pursuing a damaging Brexit in unprincipled ways", putting lives and livelihoods at risk.
In a letter to Johnson, Lee said the Conservative Party "had become a narrow faction in which one's Conservatism is measured by how recklessly one wants to leave the European Union".
Addressing the Commons after days of verbal clashes over his “do or die” Brexit pledge by the October 31 deadline, Johnson told MPs he wanted a negotiated exit from the EU and insisted there was "real momentum" behind the talks. But he warned that plans by rebel Tory MPs to pass legislation effectively blocking a no-deal exit would "destroy any chance of negotiating a new deal".
"It is Jeremy Corbyn's surrender bill. It means running up the white flag," said Johnson, in reference to a motion that is set to be voted on later on Tuesday night.
If rebel MPs from his own Tory party and Opposition benches succeed in uniting and seeing the motion through, it would force Johnson's hand on seeking an extension to the Brexit deadline from the EU at least until January 31, 2020, in the event that no withdrawal agreement is agreed between both sides by the middle of October.
However, Downing Street has indicated that Johnson is prepared to go for a motion for a general election around October 14 in retaliation and would rather let the government fold and go back to the voters than seek another extension from the EU.
Earlier, the Commons Speaker accepted an application for an emergency debate on the issue of Britain's exit from the 28-member economic bloc. It will go for on to be debated by MPs before a vote on Tuesday night, which if passed would then be tabled as a bill on Wednesday.
The so-called SO24, signed by 18 MPs, states that the Commons has "considered the matter of the need to take all necessary steps to ensure that the United Kingdom does not leave the European Union on October 31 without a withdrawal agreement". Downing Street branded the rebel motion a "blueprint for legislative purgatory".
"The Prime Minister does not want to hold an election. If, by destroying his negotiating position, MPs force an election, then that would take place before the October European Council [October 17]," Johnson's official spokesperson said.
Brexit is set to dominate proceedings throughout the week in Parliament, with Opposition MPs on overdrive to block Johnson from pushing through what they believe would be a damaging forced divorce from the EU without a deal in place just to meet the October 31 deadline. They were put against the clock after Johnson announced plans to suspend Parliament from around September 9 until October 14, reducing the number of sitting days during which they had planned to scrutinise the issue of Brexit.