Brexit doubts abound as Boris Johnson loses majority in parliament after defection

Brexit doubts abound as Boris Johnson loses majority in parliament after defection
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was braced for a showdown with parliament on Tuesday over his Brexit plan that could spark a snap election and derail Britain's exit from the European Union next month. (AFP Photo/PRU)
Updated 03 September 2019

Brexit doubts abound as Boris Johnson loses majority in parliament after defection

Brexit doubts abound as Boris Johnson loses majority in parliament after defection
  • Johnson implicitly warned lawmakers on Monday that he would seek an election if they tied his hands in talks with EU
  • Conservative lawmaker Phillip Lee joined the opposition Liberal Democrats ahead of a showdown with rebel MPs over Brexit

LONDON: British lawmakers on Tuesday began a bid to stop Boris Johnson pursuing what they cast as a calamitous 'no-deal' Brexit, a challenge that a senior government source said would prompt the prime minister to press for a snap election on Oct. 14.

More than three years after the UK voted in a referendum to leave the European Union, the outcome of the Brexit crisis remains uncertain, with possible outcomes ranging from a turbulent no-deal exit to abandoning the whole endeavour.

Johnson implicitly warned lawmakers on Monday that he would seek an election if they tied his hands in talks to negotiate a last-minute divorce deal, ruling out ever countenancing a further delay to Brexit, originally due to take place last March but now scheduled for Oct. 31.

But then Conservative lawmaker Phillip Lee joined the opposition Liberal Democrats ahead of a showdown with rebel MPs over Brexit that could lead to a snap election within weeks.

That set up an historic showdown between prime minister and parliament in a country once touted as a confident pillar of Western economic and political stability. Sterling flirted briefly with some of its lowest levels since 1985.

On parliament's first day back from its summer break, an alliance of opposition lawmakers and rebels in Johnson's Conservative Party put forward a motion to launch their bid to block a no-deal exit, and appeared confident of victory.

Johnson cast the challenge as an attempt to force Britain to surrender to the EU just as he hopes to secure concessions on the terms of the divorce - a step he said he would never accept.

"It means running up the white flag," Johnson said. "It is a bill that, if passed, would force me to go to Brussels and beg an extension. It would force me to accept the terms offered. It would destroy any chance of negotiation for a new deal.

Just as Johnson began speaking, he lost his working majority in parliament when one of his own Conservative lawmakers, Phillip Lee, crossed the floor of the House of Commons to join the pro-EU Liberal Democrats.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn told parliament that Johnson's was a government with "no mandate, no morals and, as of today, no majority."

The pound sterling hit multi-year lows against the dollar on Tuesday amid fears of a no-deal Brexit but rebounded after Johnson lost his working parliamentary majority.

“For all the uncertainty that lies ahead, markets see a Boris Johnson led no-deal Brexit as the worst-case scenario and thus treat anything that undermines that as pound positive,” said Joshua Mahony at IG.

Sterling struck $1.1959 in early European business, its worst trading level since 1985 with the exception of a 2016 “flash crash” which took it even lower for a very short moment.

“Though there is no doubt plenty of pain on the horizon, sterling managed to shake off the excesses of its Tuesday’s slide as the session went on,” said Connor Campbell at Spreadex.