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Boris Johnson 'has lost control,' experts say, but election could be a 'lifeline'

Key Points
  • Parliament took control of the parliamentary agenda earlier this week, then it passed legislation to prevent a no-deal Brexit. They also rejected a snap election.
  • The moves have forced Prime Minister Boris Johnson's hand when it comes to Brexit,
  • An early election is still on the cards if no-deal Brexit legislation is passed quickly.
Boris Johnson gets into his car after leaving the property in Great College Street that he and his campaign team have been using on 23rd July 2019, in Westminster, London, England.
Richard Baker | In Pictures | Getty Images

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has not had the best week with parliament defeating his Brexit plans.

First, by taking control of the parliamentary agenda, then by passing legislation to prevent a no-deal Brexit – effectively forcing the prime minister's hand when it comes to Brexit – and finally, on Wednesday night, scuppering his plan for a snap election – for now.

After taking control of parliamentary business on Tuesday, a majority of MPs then on Wednesday approved a bill forcing the prime minister to ask the European Union (EU) for another delay to the U.K.'s departure date, pushing Brexit back to January 31, 2020, if there is no withdrawal agreement approved by October 19.

The House of Lords, the upper chamber of the U.K.'s Houses of Parliament, has said it would approve the legislation, allaying fears that pro-Brexit peers could try to derail the bill. The bill is likely to receive royal assent — required for it to become law, before parliament is suspended next week.

Leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, said Thursday that Parliament will debate and vote on an early election again on Monday.

Johnson 'has lost control'

The latest maneuver in parliament serve to thwart the new prime minister, who also lost his wafer thin majority in parliament this week after the defection of one of his MPs and the deselection of a number of "rebel" Tory MPs that voted to stop a no-deal Brexit, that is, voted against the government.

Johnson was dealt another blow on Thursday when his own brother, Jo Johnson, an MP and junior minister in Johnson's government (although he had voted Remain in the 2016 referendum) resigned, saying he was "torn between family loyalty and the national interest."

"Johnson has lost control," Chris Scicluna and Emily Nicol, economists at Daiwa Capital Markets, said Wednesday.

"After a mere two days of parliamentary scrutiny as Prime Minister, Johnson has already lost control of the House of Commons, the Brexit process, and the fate of his government," they said in a note.

Johnson has maintained since becoming prime minister in July that the U.K. will leave the EU on October 31 "come what may" despite no Brexit deal being agreed in parliament.

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He had argued that it was crucial to keep a no-deal Brexit option on the table in last-ditch talks with the EU to try to get a deal that could be approved by the U.K. parliament.

But, as promised if he was defeated, Johnson put forward a motion calling for a snap election, mooted for October 15, but he failed to get the support of two-thirds of parliament needed to hold a vote as the main opposition Labour Party instructed its MPs to abstain from the vote.

The U.K. leader could still try other options to force an election. The government could try to bypass legislation requiring a two-thirds majority to approve a snap election. It has even been mooted that Johnson could call a vote of no confidence in his own government and then call on his MPs (Members of Parliament) to abstain from the vote although this is seen as extremely unlikely.

Early election 'lifeline'

The Labour Party said it would not support an election before legislation to stop a no-deal Brexit had been passed into law. Some party members also want to see the departure date for Brexit (the departure procedure is known as 'Article 50') extended before they approve an election, however.

But if the no-deal Brexit bill is passed into law next week, Labour might then agree to an election and this could still take place on October 15 or before the end of the year, J.P. Morgan economist Malcom Barr said in a note Wednesday.

"Our bias is to think that Labour will ultimately take the position that Article 50 must be extended first, and a general election will then occur in November. But the situation is fluid at this point."

If Johnson won an election before the October 31 departure date – and the Conservative Party is ahead in the polls, with YouGov data published Wednesday showing the party with 35% of the vote compared to Labour's 25%, the Liberal Democrats' 16% and Brexit Party's 11% – he could repeal the legislation preventing a no-deal Brexit, Daiwa's Scicluna and Nicol said.

"Johnson hopes early election will provide a lifeline," they noted. "Moreover, the sooner the election is held, the greater will be Johnson's ability to take advantage of his current elevated poll ratings." However, they noted that if an election is held in November, "Johnson will have clearly failed in his key pledge to deliver Brexit 'do or die' by end-October, something that will instantly lose him backing from Brexit Party supporters."

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