LONDON — Opposition MPs once again thwarted Boris Johnson’s attempts to force an early general election before Brexit, voting down his plans for the second time in the space of a week.
A government motion calling for a ballot, which would have taken place in mid-October, was defeated because it fell short of the two-thirds majority required to call an early election: 293 voted in favor and 46 against.
“Once again, the opposition think they know better,” Johnson said.
Opposition parties joined forces last week to block Johnson’s plans, fearful he could take the U.K. out of the EU without a deal on October 31 were he to win a majority in the election. They have since said they will not back a national vote until no deal is taken off the table — for now — by legislation forced through by them, in alliance with rebel Conservatives, last week.
The legislation, known as the Benn Act, requires Johnson to ask the EU for an extension to the Article 50 process, delaying Brexit until January 2020 if no agreement with Brussels is in place by October 19. Opposition MPs want to see this extension come into force before backing an election.
Johnson mocked opposition parties ahead of the vote, accusing them of “preposterous cowardice” for avoiding an election. “The only possible explanation is that they fear we will win it,” he said, and claimed they were trying to “protect the British people from the consequences of their own democratic decisions.”
Johnson insisted again that he will not ask for a Brexit delay. It remains to be seen whether Johnson would indeed refuse to do so, even if he risked breaking the law.
Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he wanted an election but was “not prepared to risk inflicting” what he called “the disaster of no deal” on the country.
The vote against an early election was the last act of the current parliament, which has been suspended early by the queen at the request of Johnson’s government. MPs will not convene again until October 14, when a queen’s speech will be held to open a new session of parliament.
An election is still considered highly likely following parliament’s return, but due to the required length of an election campaign cannot now take place till November.