UK prime minister mulls early election over Brexit impasse
LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was weighing Wednesday whether to push for an early election or try again to pass his stalled European Union divorce deal, after Parliament blocked a fast-track plan to approve his Brexit bill before the U.K.’s scheduled departure from the bloc on Oct. 31.
Late Tuesday, lawmakers backed the substance of Johnson’s divorce deal in principle but rejected the government’s plan to fast-track the legislation through Parliament in a matter of days, saying it didn’t provide enough time for scrutiny.
The government is now waiting for the EU’s response to its request for a three-month extension to the Brexit deadline. European Council President Donald Tusk said in a tweet that because of the vote he would recommend that the other 27 EU nations grant Britain a delay in its departure to avoid a chaotic no-deal exit in just eight days.
British Justice Secretary Robert Buckland told the BBC on Wednesday that Parliament’s failure to break the logjam means “we are left with the option of a general election … That seems to me to be the only way to break this impasse.”
But some lawmakers urged Johnson to push on with passage of the bill, saying it could pass if lawmakers had time to study it properly.
“I would have thought it can be done in a matter of weeks,” said Richard Burgon of the opposition Labour Party.
Johnson won a major parliamentary victory on Tuesday when lawmakers in principle backed a Brexit plan, voting 329-299 a bill to implement the divorce agreement that Johnson struck with the EU last week. But minutes later, legislators rejected his fast-track timetable to pass the bill by 322 votes to 308, saying they needed more time to scrutinize it.
Without speedy passage of the bill, Britain won’t be able to make an orderly exit from the bloc on Oct. 31, a central vow of Johnson’s three-month-old Conservative administration.
House of Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg conceded Tuesday that “it is very hard to see how it is possible” to leave the EU with a deal on Oct. 31.
Johnson had grudgingly asked the EU to delay Brexit to comply with a law passed by Parliament ordering the government to postpone Brexit rather than risk the economic damage that could come from a no-deal exit.
All 27 other EU leaders must agree to an extension, which would be the third time Britain’s departure date has been postponed.
Johnson has not abandoned his Brexit deal, which sets out the terms of Britain’s departure from the EU after almost five decades of membership. It will form the centerpiece of his Conservative Party’s campaign if there is an early election.
Johnson hopes an election will give his Conservatives a majority in Parliament so he can push through his plans.
“One way or another, we will leave the EU with this deal to which this House has just given its assent,” Johnson told lawmakers after Tuesday’s votes.
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