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British Parliament votes to debate bill preventing no-deal Brexit

By
Nicholas Sakelaris & Daniel Uria
Anti-Brexit protesters gather outside No. 10 Downing St. Saturday in opposition to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's decision to shut down Parliament. Photo by Hugo Philpott/UPI
Anti-Brexit protesters gather outside No. 10 Downing St. Saturday in opposition to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's decision to shut down Parliament. Photo by Hugo Philpott/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 3 (UPI) -- The British Parliament voted in favor of taking control of the agenda Tuesday as members seek to bring forth a bill to delay Britain's exit from the European Union.

The House of Commons voted 328-301 as Tory rebels and opposition MPs secured a win over the government to secure a debate on a bill to prevent a no-deal Brexit on Wednesday.

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who lost his majority in the House of Commons after a member of the Conservative Party defected in protest of his intention to leave the European Union without a deal, said he would bring forth a measure to hold a snap election in response to the vote.

"Since I refuse to go along with that plan we are going to have to make a choice," he said. "I don't want an election. The public don't want an election. But if the House votes for this bill tomorrow, the public will have to choose who goes to Brussels on Oct. 17 to sort this out and take this country forward."

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Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said the bill to prevent a no-deal exit should be passed before an election is held.

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"As I have said before, if the prime minister has confidence in his Brexit policy -- when he has one he can put forward -- he should put it before the people in a public vote. And so, he wants to table a motion for a general election, fine get the bill through first in order to take no-deal off the table," he said.

The series of events began as lawmaker Phillip Lee quit the Conservative Party and joined the Liberal Democrats, shifting the balance of power in the House of Commons. That set up a vote for members of Parliament to take control of parliamentary business.

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The effort effectively serves as a vote of no confidence in Johnson's leadership and could lead to a snap election in October, just weeks before the EU exit deadline on Oct. 31.

The coalition includes 21 Conservatives who are bailing on their pro-Brexit colleagues in an effort to prevent leaving without EU approval. Johnson met with Lee and other rebels who left the party but acknowledged that they were unswayed. Political observers said more departures could be coming this week, including Nicholas Soames, grandson of Winston Churchill.

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Johnson vowed to expel any Conservative who votes against him in tonight's vote.

Former Chancellor Philip Hammond asked Johnson to publish his alternative Brexit proposal before the vote to reassure lawmakers that he has a solid plan to leave the EU with a deal.

Johnson warned he doesn't want a snap election and said blocking a no-deal exit would "chop the legs out" from Britain's ability to negotiate with the EU because they would be forced to cut a deal.

"As long as this house is proposing motions such as the ones tonight and tomorrow, I am afraid we have no chance of getting progress from our EU friends," Johnson said. "We are working flat out to secure it, but the measures, if passed, are making the prospects of success less likely."

Lawmakers took control of the House of Commons order paper, overriding the prime minister's office, which typically creates new legislation. Parliament had a limited time to act because Johnson received permission from Queen Elizabeth II to suspend Parliament for five weeks until mid-October, a controversial move that many see as an effort to hamstring lawmakers from blocking an unsanctioned departure.

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Analysts warn that leaving the European Union without established trade deals and border policies could have disastrous economic consequences for Britain. France is prepared to have 700 customs agents at the border on the English Channel. Belgium and the Netherlands have also hired hundreds of customs agents in case there's no deal on Nov. 1.

Former Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt told Sky News that Conservative lawmakers have "given in" to pro-exit lawmakers for the last 30 years and aren't going to do it anymore.

Labor Party member Hilary Benn wants to delay the exit until Jan. 31, or longer.

Thousands of protesters blocked traffic in London last weekend to oppose Johnson's decision to shut down Parliament, which has been rebuked by EU leaders.

"If the rational was to scare the EU into renegotiation by removing Parliament as the final obstacle to no-deal Brexit, the U.K. government has been gravely misled," German foreign affairs committee member Norbert Rottgen said on Twitter. "The executive denying parliament its democratic say at this decisive moment cannot be rewarded by the EU."

Ireland is bracing for a no-deal departure, but has not backed down, either.

"We have to be prepared for a no-deal on Oct. 31," Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told RTE Monday. "That is increasingly likely, and we need to be prepared for that."

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