Boris Johnson’s fledgling premiership was in tatters last night after MPs kicked out his bid to call a general election to force through his no-deal Brexit.
The PM suffered the defeat on only his third day in office – after Tories he brutally purged for voting against him on Tuesday joined opposition parties to reject his call for a poll.
Mr Johnson had earlier lost a bid to block MPs from voting to take no-deal off the table. And it came a day after Tory rebels helped push through a debate to discuss the matter.
Amid the backlash, it meant Mr Johnson became the first PM in history to lose his first three Commons votes in a row.
In the poll to call an early general election, 298 MPs voted for and 56 against. Labour abstained. It meant humiliated Mr Johnson failed to get the two-thirds of the House he needed to support him.
It followed a bruising day for the PM after he was embroiled in a furious row with Tory MPs for expelling rebels and suffered a mauling at his first PMQs. His party was also accused of bully boy tactics by Labour MP Jess Phillips in an impassioned speech in which she outlined her reasons for not supporting his bid for an early election, insisting a no-deal Brexit would plunge Britain into disastrous economic turmoil.
Jeremy Corbyn likened the PM’s election proposal to the offer of “a poisoned apple to Snow White by a wicked queen”. He said: “Let the Bill pass and have royal assent and then we can have a general election.”
But the Labour leader faced a backlash from his own backbenchers who want to delay supporting a fresh vote.
They fear that holding an election on Mr Johnson’s preferred date of October 15 would leave the door open for Britain to crash out of the EU on October 31.
Many believe Mr Johnson could campaign on his Brexit “do or die” pledge and if he won would then ram through a no-deal departure.
The legislation MPs voted in to stop that is expected to clear the House of Lords by this Friday, and get royal assent next week. This would then clear the way for another vote on a general election which Mr Corbyn is likely at that point to support.
But senior Labour figures, including Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell are said to prefer the idea of allowing Mr Johnson to “limp on”.
They believe he would be politically damaged – and therefore beatable – if he was unable to deliver Brexit by the date he boldly pledged after becoming PM. Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer told Labour MPs the party would back a poll only once the bill was actually implemented and the three-month delay guaranteed.
The Lib Dems would also vote against until the extension was guaranteed, although the SNP prefers an earlier poll to set up a battle over Scottish independence.
Mr Johnson told MPs it was “very sad” that they had voted for the bill to take no-deal off the table, which passed by 327 votes to 299.
Protesters outside the House of Commons played the Star Wars theme tune as the
result was announced, a reference to the “rebel alliance” of MPs.
The 21 former Tory rebels were joined by Tory MP Caroline Spelman. Downing Street has consistently claimed the Bill to block no-deal would hamper the PM’s negotiations with the EU. But Mr Corbyn and the former Tory rebels accused him of lacking a serious negotiating strategy – after Brussels officials claimed they had not seen any concrete offer.
The Labour leader said: “The Prime Minister says he has a strategy but he can’t say what it is and can’t tell the EU either.
“His Brexit strategy is cloaked in mystery because, like the Emperor’s New Clothes, there is nothing there.”
After Mr Johnson’s no-deal defeat, veteran Tory Ken Clarke, one of those kicked out of the party, told him he was very good at keeping a “straight face” while being so “disingenuous” about an election.
He added: “I urge him one last time to stop treating this as a game.” The Government will suspend Parliament until October 14 at some point next week.
Labour and Tories are now investigating how MPs could be given a second chance to vote for an election before then. Mr Corbyn could amend the motion of the Fixed Term Parliament Act to attach a date or call a confidence vote in the PM.
No.10 was examining a single-line bill for another election vote, that would need a majority of MPs to back it.
Whitehall sources suggested it was possible the Speaker John Bercow could rule out a second vote.
But one insider said it would be “truly extraordinary” for him to block an election.
Labour signalled it was stepping up snap-election preparations, with plans to announce it was shelving controversial mandatory trigger selections from next week.