Special Briefing: Why Does Boris Johnson Want an Election So Badly?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson making a statement to MPs in the House of Commons, London,

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Why you should care

With its newly installed prime minister in meltdown, Britain’s Parliament pushes forward to delay (again).

This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.

WHAT TO KNOW

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Brexit supporting sisters Alice (left) and Beatrice Grant outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster

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What happened? His honeymoon period has ended. Boris Johnson has been Britain’s prime minister for just over a month, and his focus has been entirely on Brexit — which he says will happen “do or die” on Oct. 31 even if there’s no exit deal in place with the European Union. To keep Parliament from stopping him, he’s decided to shut down the body early to give lawmakers just days to pass legislation stopping an automatic exit. But Parliament fought back: Yesterday, Johnson became one of a handful of PMs to lose their first vote in the House of Commons as 22 members of his own party defied him to allow debate on a bill delaying Brexit. He was defeated 52 percent to 48 percent — the same margin as the Brexit referendum. Today, the House of Commons easily passed a bill to effectively delay Brexit by three months.   

Why does it matter? Johnson had been working with a majority of exactly one MP, and yesterday he lost it during the debate, when Conservative Phillip Lee publicly crossed the floor of the House of Commons to go sit with the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats. Lee later voted with the opposition and 21 rebel Conservatives to advance today’s vote forcing an extension if a deal cannot be reached by Oct. 19. Johnson immediately called for an early election but was denied by opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who says he wants the option of no deal taken off the table first. 

HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT

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Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg reclining on his seat in the House of Commons London.

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Rebel yell. The 21 Conservatives who opted to vote against their party included former high-level ministers like Philip Hammond and Winston Churchill’s grandson, Nicholas Soames. It’s been confirmed that all will “lose the whip,” meaning they keep their seats but are effectively expelled from the party and unable to run as Conservatives in the next election.

“Call an election, you great big girl’s blouse!” That’s what Johnson’s seen telling Corbyn on video today during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons. Johnson needs the support of two-thirds of MPs to call a public vote, meaning he needs Corbyn to support it. But Corbyn’s refused, perhaps due to speculation that if MPs support a pre-Brexit election, Johnson could unilaterally move the date of the vote to after Brexit and secure what he wants that way.  

Saboteurs. Now that the Brexit delay bill has passed the House of Commons, it moves on to the House of Lords — and there it could run into problems. Pro-Brexit legislators have reportedly tabled more than 85 amendments to the bill, on everything from bat habitats to medical records. While they’re not expected to pass, all that debate could slow down the timetable, leaving a vote languishing until Saturday or Sunday. And since a Scottish court ruled that Johnson’s early Parliamentary shutdown is lawful, that could prove fatal to those hoping to avoid a no-deal Brexit. 

Lounge lizard. Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg went viral after the debate for reclining ostentatiously as the discussion wore on. Despite shouts from the opposition to sit up, Mogg stayed nearly prone — and soon his photo was splashed across the internet as a meme, pasted into Pre-Raphaelite paintings and repurposed as a graph of the Conservative majority.  

WHAT TO READ

Boris Johnson Is Taking a High Stakes Gamble, by Robert Shrimsley in the Financial Times

“In just a few short weeks Mr Johnson has also orchestrated the biggest rupture in the Conservative party for decades, sending it into that election having expelled 21 of his own MPs.” 

Boris Johnson’s Blustering Strategy Has Fallen at the First Hurdle, by Tom Kibasi in The Guardian

“Johnson has no viable negotiating strategy for Brexit itself and yet he invested all his political capital in meeting the October deadline. For all the bluster about no-deal, the reality is that the chaos it would cause means the only gamble for the Tories bigger than a general election before Brexit is one afterward.” 

WHAT TO WATCH

Phillip Lee MP Crosses the Floor to Sit With the Lib Dems

Watch on The Telegraph on YouTube:

Boris Johnson Loses Key Vote as Parliament Takes Control of Brexit Negotiations

”Parliament is on the brink of wrecking any deal that we might be able to strike with Brussels.”

Watch on Bloomberg on YouTube:

WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER

Meanwhile, back at the pub. While the pound rose slightly against the euro and the dollar as Johnson lost his majority, Britain’s economy contracted for two consecutive quarters this year, putting it in a technical recession. The economic contraction this spring was the first since 2012, and experts expect that Brexit-related pressures will continue adding to market turmoil.

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