At least 21 Tory MPs have been expelled from the governing party after voting against Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in an attempt to block a no-deal Brexit.
The Conservative chief whip, Mark Spencer, called the lawmakers, including former Chancellor Philip Hammond and Sir Nicholas Soames, the grandson of Winston Churchill, and stripped them of their whip, meaning they have been expelled from the party.
The bill passed in a 328 to 301 vote on Tuesday, with 21 members of the governing Conservative Party defecting and joining the opposition. Johnson responded to the bill’s passage by telling Parliament that he planned to call for snap general elections. The formal request would have to be approved by a two-thirds majority in the House of Commons.
“I don’t want an election, the public don’t want an election, but if the House votes for this bill tomorrow, the public will have to choose who goes to Brussels on October 17 to sort this out and take this country forward”, he said minutes after the vote, referring to the possibility that lawmakers could vote on the bill as soon as Wednesday.
To call an election before 2022 under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act Johnson would need support from Labour, as he requires the backing of two-thirds of the UK’s 650 MPs. But Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said the legislation backed by opposition MPs and Tory rebels should pass before any election was held, to “take no-deal off the table”.
“He isn’t winning friends in Europe. He’s losing friends at home. His is a government with no mandate, no morals and, as of today, no majority”, Corbyn said.
Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said he did not put it past Boris Johnson to call an election for mid-October and then change the date afterwards. He said the prime minister could “change the date so that during the general election campaign we crash out of the European Union with a no-deal”.
“We want it bolting down that a no-deal Brexit can’t occur, and once that’s done, we want a general election as soon as possible”, he told the BBC.
Johnson’s move to expel rebel Tories has also infuriated many longtime, prominent party members.
Dominic Grieve, who was attorney general in David Cameron’s government, said the expulsion threats demonstrate Johnson’s “ruthlessness”. MP Justine Greening said she feared her beloved party was “morphing into Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party”, in a reference to the UK’s foremost Euroskeptic and the party he leads. Former Treasury chief Philip Hammond warned of the “fight of a lifetime” if officials tried to prevent him from running in the next election.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said he was “delighted” that MPs had expressed a “very clear view” in favour of a law to block no deal.
“Boris Johnson and his government must respect the right of parliamentarians to represent the interests of their constituents. Yes, there must be an election, but an election follows on from securing an extension to the [Brexit deadline]”, he said.
Aside from another turn in the Brexit process, with one of the most consequential debates in parliamentary history, Tuesday’s vote gifted netizens a memorable image of Jacob Rees-Mogg, who spent a significant portion of the time slouched on the government front bench. The leader of the House of Commons was heavily criticised by fellow MPs, who accused him of showing contempt for Parliament as he reclined on the green benches, while also becoming a target for many Brexit-related memes.