LONDON — Britain may have to wait to leave the European Union.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson lost a key vote in the House of Commons on Tuesday night after lawmakers — including a band of rebels from his own Conservative Party — used an obscure procedural motion to wrest control of the parliamentary agenda from the government in a bid to stop a "no deal" Brexit.
Parliament headed into another tumultuous day Wednesday, with rebels planning to use their new control of the House to try and force a Brexit delay to January from its current Oct. 31 deadline. Meanwhile, the prime minister was expected to try and persuade lawmakers to back a general election in October in order to restore his authority before the deadline.
Tuesday's vote was won by 328 votes to 301, with the 21 Conservatives supporting the motion being kicked out of the party for defying the prime minister. Rebels include party grandees Ken Clarke, the longest continuously sitting British lawmaker in the House of Commons, former Treasury chief Philip Hammond, and Nicholas Soames, the grandson of Winston Churchill — Johnson's political idol and the subject of one of his books.
Ruth Davidson, who days ago quit as the leader of the Conservatives in Scotland, used Twitter to attack the expulsions.
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The rebels acted to stop a so-called no deal exit, where the U.K. would have no official ongoing agreements with the E.U., something critics have predicted will cause economic havoc, as well as shortages of food and medicine.
There is now great uncertainty over how,when and even if Britain will eventually leave the E.U. — a prosperous bloc that the U.K. has been part of for decades — and go it alone, a cherished goal for Johnson and his inner circle.
The Brexit delay bill, if it passes, would need to be ratified by the House of Lords. While Parliament's upper house has many anti-Brexit members, some pro-Brexit lords may attempt to stall the bill's progress by introducing dozens of amendments.
As a result the House of Lords could end up sitting through the night — one Liberal Democrat peer brought a duvet, a change of clothes and a shaving kit with him to Parliament on Wednesday morning.
The vote Tuesday was one of the most dramatic moments since Britain voted to leave the E.U. in June 2016. Since then, British politics has been paralyzed and obsessed with the question of how the country should leave the bloc.
"Let there be no doubt, Mr. Speaker, of the consequences of this vote tonight. It means that Parliament is on the brink of wrecking any deal that we might be able to scrape in Brussels," Johnson said following the vote.
He went on to say that he "refuses to go along with the plan."
With no majority and without control of the House of Commons, Johnson has little choice but to call an election.
"I don’t want an election, the public does not want an election, I don’t believe the right honorable gentleman wants an election. But if the House votes for this bill tomorrow then the public will have to choose who goes to Brussels on October the 17th to sort this out," he said.
And while it has repeatedly called for an election, the opposition Labour Party has now said it won't support one unless or until the Brexit delay bill is passed, which is unlikely to happen before Friday. Johnson needs two-thirds of all members of Parliament to vote in favor of any election called before 2022.
"We are on the verge of stopping a no deal Brexit — if we can get this bill through, we have succeeding in [getting] an insurance policy by Friday," Labour's shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer, told the BBC on Wednesday.
"Johnson is setting a trap which says, 'Vote for it [an election] today and then I can knock you off course and you will fail in your task," he said. "We're not going to fall for that."
Patrick Smith is a London-based editor and reporter for NBC News Digital.