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U.K. lawmakers again reject Boris Johnson's call for election, extending Brexit chaos

After another remarkable day in Parliament, the U.K. is still unsure when the Brexit saga will end.
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LONDON — Britain’s embattled Prime Minister Boris Johnson suffered yet another political defeat on Monday as he failed for a second time to convince lawmakers to back his call for an election to solve the Brexit deadlock.

Johnson's bid failed, with 293 Members of Parliament supporting the motion, 46 voting against it and multiple abstentions. The prime minister needed two-thirds of support of the House of Commons, at least 434 votes, for the election to take place.

Johnson blamed opposition lawmakers for delaying “Brexit yet again” and promised that his government would “press on negotiating a deal while preparing to leave without one.”

“No matter how many devices this Parliament invents to tie my hands, I will strive” to get an agreement in Brussels, he said.

Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn, meanwhile, described Johnson’s shutdown of Parliament — that began Monday night — as a way to avoid any discussion of that deal.

“This government is a disgrace and the way the prime minister operates is a disgrace,” Corbyn said.

Longtime House Speaker John Bercow, who earlier announced his decision to step down from the job and has repeatedly urged lawmakers to wrest control of Brexit’s future, told the chamber that there was nothing “normal” about Johnson's suspension of parliament.

Bercow, who belonged to Johnson's Conservative Party before he was elected Speaker, was met with jeers and repeated interruptions from right-wing MPs.

The suspension, he warned, "represents not just in the minds of many colleagues, but to huge numbers of people outside, an act of executive fiat."

In the last-ditch attempt to save him the embarrassment of asking Brussels for an extension to the process of leaving the European Union, Johnson wanted voters to back his hard-line "do or die" stance on leaving under any circumstance on Oct. 31.

But opposition lawmakers didn't want to agree to a “snap election” unless they could ensure Johnson would not be able to take Britain out of the E.U. without a deal — which they say will have devastating consequences for the U.K.

He accused the opposition Labour Party of "preposterous cowardice" for opposing an election.

Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, said: "We're eager for an election. But as keen we are, we're not prepared to risk inflicting the disaster of no deal on our communities, our jobs, our services or indeed our rights."

The House of Commons defeat came as:

• Lawmakers passed a motion compelling the government to release planning documents and private communications no later than 11 p.m. (6 p.m. ET) Wednesday relating to a "no-deal" Brexit, where the U.K. leaves without any ongoing legal agreements with the E.U.

• The government used its executive powers to shut down Parliament, effective from the close of business Monday night, until Oct. 14. This is widely seen as an attempt by Johnson to counteract efforts by his opponents to stop his Brexit plans.

• House Speaker John Bercow, who has repeatedly allowed lawmakers to seize control of Parliament's agenda to steer the course of Brexit, stepped down after a decade in the job on Monday.

Image: Speaker John Bercow reacts as he delivers a statement in the House of Commons in London
Speaker John Bercow reacts as he delivers a statement in Parliament on Monday.Jessica Taylor / UK Parliament via Reuters

Legislation passed by opposition MPs and rebels from Johnson's own Conservative Party last week means Johnson will have to ask for an extension beyond Oct. 31 — although the E.U. also has to agree to any deadline change. If an extension is granted, it would be the third since the Brexit referendum in 2016.

Johnson has said he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than ask for another extension — something that opposition parties say could potentially mean the British prime minister breaking the law.

The recent string of setbacks has left Johnson increasingly boxed in.

One of his most trusted senior ministers, Amber Rudd, resigned from the Cabinet on Sunday over his mishandling of Brexit and the expulsion of 21 members of his own party after they supported an opposition plan to try to block a "no-deal" Brexit last week.

Britain’s Sunday Times reported in the wake of Rudd’s resignation that at least six Cabinet ministers are understood to share her views and at least one is still considering whether to resign as well.

The prime minister’s brother, Jo Johnson, quit just days before Rudd last week, saying he was “torn between family loyalty and the national interest.”

Finding himself with increasingly fewer cards to play, Boris Johnson was asked last week if he would resign should he be unable to deliver on his promise of abiding by the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline.

“That is not a hypothesis I'm willing to contemplate," he said Friday during a visit to a farm in Scotland.

Earlier on Monday, Johnson had a sudden change of tone, sounding more compromising about the importance of securing a deal.

"I want to find a deal," Johnson said in Dublin, adding that the "no-deal" scenario, while doable, would be "a failure of statecraft for which we would all be responsible."

Image: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets with Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Government Buildings on Sept. 9, 2019 in Dublin, Ireland.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets with Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Government Buildings on in Dublin on Monday. Charles McQuillan / Getty Images

Johnson traveled to Ireland for talks with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Monday, in the hope of winning concessions on the so-called Irish backstop, an insurance policy designed to stop the return of a hard border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland.

The backstop is considered crucial by Ireland, an E.U. member, and undemocratic by English Brexit supporters, for keeping the U.K. subject to European law.