Boris Johnson UK Brexit Tories
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Image: AAP/Dan Himbrechts)

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has failed to secure a snap general election for the second time, with a vote in the Commons at half-past midnight UK time. Boris secured 293 votes in favour — what remains of his destroyed Tory+DUP majority — but did not reach the two-thirds of the 650-member chamber required as a trigger by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.

The vote, wholly expected, came ahead of a five-week prorogation of parliament — an extension of the usual three-week period designed to allow for annual party conferences.

The defeat furthers Boris’ now perfect run of lost votes in his six-week tenure as PM. The vote capped off a hell night for him, which in turn capped off a hell week, in which the leaf really came off the Tories’ golden boy, revealing the brass beneath.

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Having last week lost the vote to the Remain alliance — almost all of Labour plus almost every small party and independent except the DUP — which forced on him the requirement to request an extension of the October 31 no-deal crash-out deadline, Boris then spent several days in a mix of crisis engineering and de Pfeffeling about; the mix of intent and habit of which was hard to parse. (If readers apprehend a certain tergiversation in my discourse, it’s because I have been listening to Commons speaker/carny John Bercow for 10 of the last 12 hours now.)

I can believe six impossible things before breakfast said the White Queen, and the Tories have been determined to give her a run for the money. Now working largely with his small cabal of advisers, very non-conservative people, Johnson said he would “die in a ditch” rather than ask the EU for an extension, as the law required. This is red meat for the base to ward off the Brexit Party, augmented by the fact that Boris was doing a photo opp leading a prize Aberdeenshire bull away from camera at the time.

The proper course would have been for the opposition to call on him to resign — but of course that would trigger a general election before the mandated cut-off date to request an extension, and Labour want him to twist in the wind.

Things moved fast. Having called Corbyn a “big girl’s blouse” — bizarre, because that is pretty much exactly what Boris himself, rather than the distinctly under-fed Corbyn, looks like — it was revealed that he had called David Cameron “a girly swot” for having established the late summer session of the Commons in the first place, raising questions of his nastier side afresh. In Ireland, he was schooled in a joint press conference by Leo Varadkar — Johnson turned into a squirming Beano character before our eyes, as Varadkar pointed out that years of hard work would follow no-deal Brexit. (Hard work? Jings! thought Boris, dreaming of big girls’ blouses…)

Meanwhile the Leave Tories were doing what they do best: coming up with ripping wheezes. Hardcore Brexiteer Nigel Evans said they were gaming out options in the Commons tea room and “whittled it down to about 20”. These included attaching a letter of non-compliance to the Commons-mandated letter to cancel it out. This was pooh-poohed by a legal grandee named — what else — Lord Sumption, who pointed out that this would still land the PM with a contempt of court ruling in the Supreme Court.

After the cabinet had made noises about not, y’know, destroying the rule of law, Johnson said he would of course abide by the law. This brought him under immediate attack from Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party.

Thus to yesterday’s session stretching into the early hours. This included not only Bercow’s announcement of his impending resignation, but successful motions to make public the crisis-planning documents of Operation Yellowhammer, but also of those leading up to prorogation. The resignation of key cabinet member Amber Rudd on the weekend, and her statement that she believed no work whatsoever to get a deal was being done, had set the dogs running on that.

Now parliament has been prorogued in extraordinary scenes. It’s usually weird enough, with the speaker and black rod summoned to the Lord’s and hit with dead swans or something, but this time Labour and the SNP heckled the Tories, held up signs saying “silenced”, and then had an old school singsong before the speaker returned to scatter them.

Now the fight moves to the courts, the streets, the parties and the air. The Commons will need to sit near-continuously in late October, when it resumes. If it resumes, that is.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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