Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks towards a podium to speak to the media outside 10 Downing Street in London, Monday, Sept. 2, 2019. Johnson says he doesn't want an election amid the Brexit crisis and issued a rallying cry to lawmakers to back him in securing a Brexit deal. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

Johnson calls opponents cowardly for blocking election bid

September 05, 2019 - 6:16 am

LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister Boris Johnson accused Britain's main opposition leader on Thursday of trying to dodge an election, after rebellious lawmakers rejected the U.K. leader's call to trigger a snap poll and moved to block his plan to leave the European Union next month without a divorce deal.

Johnson remained determined to secure an election as the only way out of Britain's years-long Brexit impasse. His office said he would argue in a speech later that politicians must "go back to the people and give them the opportunity to decide what they want."

Johnson called Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn's refusal to endorse an election a "cowardly insult to democracy."

On Wednesday, Johnson asked Parliament to back an Oct. 15 election, after lawmakers moved to block his plan to leave the EU on Oct. 31, even if there is no withdrawal agreement to pave the way.

But Parliament turned down his motion. Johnson needed the support of two-thirds of the 650 lawmakers in the House of Commons to trigger an election — a total of 434 — but got just 298, with 56 voting no and the rest abstaining.

Corbyn said Labour, the biggest opposition party, would only vote for an early election if the prospect of a no-deal Brexit was taken off the table.

"Let the bill pass and have Royal Assent and then we can have a general election," he said.

Labour economy spokesman John McDonnell said the party wanted an election but was still deciding on whether to seek one before the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline, or to wait until Parliament had secured a delay to Britain's departure from the bloc.

"The problem that we have got is that we cannot at the moment have any confidence in Boris Johnson abiding by any commitment or deal that we could construct," he told the BBC.

"That's the truth of it. So, we are now consulting about whether it's better to go long, therefore, rather than to go short."

Johnson's failure to secure a quick ballot was the embattled leader's third Parliamentary defeat in two days. It was also evidence that scarcely six weeks after taking office with a vow to break Britain's Brexit deadlock — which ensnared and eventually brought down his predecessor, Theresa May — Johnson's plans to lead the U.K. out of the EU are in crisis.

He became prime minister in July by promising to complete Brexit and break the impasse that has paralyzed the country's politics since voters decided in June 2016 to leave the bloc. But he is caught between the EU, which refuses to renegotiate the deal it stuck with May, and a majority of British lawmakers opposed to leaving without an agreement. Most economists say a no-deal Brexit would cause severe economic disruption and plunge the U.K. into recession.

Opposition lawmakers, supported by rebels in Johnson's Conservative Party, are attempting to pass a bill that would block a no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31, compelling the prime minister to seek a three-month delay to Britain's departure if no exit deal has been agreed by late October.

Johnson accused the opposition of trying to "overturn the biggest democratic vote in our history," referring to the outcome of the 2016 referendum to leave the EU.

The bill was approved by the House of Commons on Wednesday, but faced trouble in Parliament's upper chamber, the House of Lords, where pro-Brexit members planned to defeat it by filibustering — talking until time ran out.

But early Thursday, the Lords agreed to allow the bill to pass through the chamber by Friday, allowing it to become law early next week. Johnson plans to suspend Parliament at some point next week until Oct. 14.

Johnson also faces several legal challenges to his push to leave the EU come what May.

On Thursday transparency campaigner Gina Miller, who won a ruling in the Supreme Court in 2017 that stopped the government from triggering the countdown to Brexit without a vote in Parliament, was bringing a challenge at the High Court to Johnson's plan to suspend Parliament.

Miller, who is supported in her claim by Labour and the governments of Scotland and Wales, argues that sending lawmakers home at a crucial time for Britain is unlawful.

"We say that what prime minister is not entitled to do is to close Parliament for five weeks at such a critical time without justification," her lawyer, David Pannick, told the hearing.

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