The UK parliament has just rejected Boris Johnson’s bid to call a snap general election – for a third time – despite the prime minister arguing it would help “get Brexit done”. But there remains a chance that the UK could have a pre-Christmas election.
So what just happened?
How did Johnson lose (again)?
Well – and this has an element of irony to it – the leader of the UK’s governing Conservative Party cannot just choose to hold an early election.
As a legal requirement, Mr Johnson needs the support of two-thirds of MPs – at least 434 – but is short of seats in the House of Commons, making this tricky.
Without a majority, he has to convince members of the opposition to vote in his favour.
Monday’s vote was rejected after the leader of the main opposition Labour Party said he did not trust Mr Johnson and would not agree to a poll until the prospect of a no-deal exit from the European Union had been definitively ruled out.
Labour MPs earlier complained that Mr Johnson’s new deal, the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB), contained plans to dilute workers’ rights after Brexit.
It was also suggested that the prime minister could change the election date after MPs had approved a 12 December poll, enabling him to postpone until after the UK had left the EU, effectively forcing through the WAB.
Labour abstained in Monday’s ballot, meaning that despite 299 MPs voting in favour and only 70 voting against, the bill failed to get the required 434 votes to pass.
What happens next?
Believe it or not, another vote on whether to have an election on 12 December.
That’s right; Mr Johnson is refusing to give up on a pre-Christmas election.
On Tuesday, he will propose a new motion in the House of Commons calling for an early election that will require a simple majority of just one vote to pass in parliament.
He will seek the support of opposition Liberal Democrat and Scottish National Party (SNP) MPs by making the short bill “almost identical” to one proposed earlier by the two parties for an election on 9 December.
Mr Johnson’s new motion, however, will be subject to amendments – which could draw out the process.
Will an election sort out Brexit though?
The Brexit deal agreed between Mr Johnson and the EU is in limbo after MPs voted against the three-day timetable to pass it through the Commons last week.
But while an election could restore the Conservative Party’s majority and give the prime minister more leverage in parliament, an early election also carries risks for Mr Johnson and the Tories.
Leaving the EU by 31 October “do or die” was a key campaign promise in Mr Johnson’s bid to become prime minister but he has since accepted an offer from EU leaders to – in principle – extend Brexit until 31 January 2020.
As a result, voters could choose to punish him at the ballot box for failing to fulfil his campaign pledge.
A general election is supposed to take place every five years in the UK. The last election was in June 2017.
Is another referendum likely?
A new vote on Britain’s EU membership is one possibility in breaking the stalemate over Brexit.
But organising another public vote would take a minimum of 22 weeks, according to experts at the Constitution Unit at University College London (UCL).
This would consist of at least 12 weeks to pass the legislation required to hold a referendum, plus a further 10 weeks to organise the campaign and hold the vote itself.
Also – and this is a recurring theme here – a government cannot just decide to hold a referendum. Instead, a majority of MPs and Members of the House of Lords would need to agree and vote through the rules of another public vote.
What about the Brexit extension?
EU Council President Donald Tusk said the latest agreed extension was flexible and that the UK could leave before the 31 January 2020 deadline if a withdrawal agreement is approved by the British parliament.
The extension will need to be formalised through a written procedure among the 27 other EU nations following agreement from the UK.
An EU official said they hoped for the process to be concluded by Tuesday or Wednesday.
Is no-deal still possible?
While Mr Johnson has formally accepted the EU’s offer of a Brexit extension until 31 January 2020, it does not mean that a no-deal Brexit is off the table. Rather, it pushes the possibility further into the future.
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Mr Johnson is likely to continue to try to push his deal through Parliament and if his efforts fail before the deadline for Britain’s exit is reached, the UK could leave without a deal.
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