Boris Johnson tonight suffered his first government defeat in his first Commons vote since becoming Prime Minister. Tory rebels joined forces with opposition MPs to take control of the agenda tomorrow – the first stage of their attempt to pass a law to legislate against no deal. The Commons voted 328 to 301 – meaning the government lost by 27 votes. This was on the high end of Tory expectations.
21 Tory MPs rebelled tonight, including Ken Clarke, David Gauke, Rory Stewart and Nicholas Soames. A No. 10 spokesman confirmed that this group will now have the whip removed: 'The Chief Whip is speaking to those Tory MPs who did not vote with the government this evening. They will have the Tory whip removed.’
After the defeat was announced, Johnson addressed a badly tempered Commons to heavy heckling. He said there should be 'no doubt about the consequences of this vote' which means that 'parliament is on the brink of wrecking any deal we might be able to strike in Brussels'. He said MPs still have a choice: whether or not to vote for the bill tomorrow to legislate against Brexit. If the rebels proceed – and there is every signal that they will do – Johnson said it would be time to go to the public in an election and he would table a motion to bring about one under the Fixed Term Parliament Act:
“'The public will have to choose who goes to Brussels on Oct 17 to sort this out and take this country forward.
Everyone will know if the Rt Jon Gentleman is the prime minister, he will go to Brussels, he will beg for an extension, you will accept whatever Brussels demands and we’ll have years more arguments over Brexit.
And by contrast, everyone will know that if I am Prime Minister, I will go to Brussels, I will go for a deal and get a deal but if they won’t do a deal we will leave anyway on 31 October.
The people of this country will have to choose.'
Johnson added that Corbyn had been 'begging' for an election for two years. However, despite this, the Labour leader appears to have gone rather cold on the idea. In his comments in the Chamber tonight, Corbyn said his party would not vote for the motion unless and until the anti-no-deal bill had passed. This led to heckles from the Tory benches.
So, where does this leave proceedings? Boris Johnson says he does not want an election but could table a motion tomorrow calling for one. Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn says he does want an election but also that he will not back calls for one unless certain caveats are met. The scale of the government's defeat tonight suggests that when it comes to tomorrow's Commons business, Johnson has little control. However, there is a view within No. 10 that Labour will be unable to keep up opposition to an early election as it is a line that will make the party look ridiculous. It's still possible an election will be called this week.