British MPs voted Monday to demand Prime Minister Boris Johnson release confidential documents relating to Britain’s EU exit, during a final day of defiance before he suspends their session until just weeks before Brexit.
MPs voted by 311 to 302 for a motion by a rebel Conservative MP demanding the government publish all documents relating to Operation Yellowhammer, the effort to prepare for a “no deal” Brexit.
The House of Commons vote came after a stormy week in which lawmakers passed a law undermining Johnson’s threat to leave the European Union on October 31 without having first agreed a deal with Brussels.
In yet another day of drama in Westminster, House of Commons speaker John Bercow announced he would be stepping down by October 31 at the latest.
That came ahead of another expected defeat for Johnson, with MPs poised for reject for a second time his call for an early election to break the political impasse over Britain’s future.
Many MPs are deeply opposed to Johnson’s threat to end Britain’s 46-year-old membership of the EU at the end of next month without agreeing any new arrangements.
In Monday’s vote, MPs also asked the government to publish communications, including WhatsApp messages and private emails, from certain advisers relating to Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament for five weeks.
The motion is not legally binding but is politically difficult to ignore.
The premier says the so-called prorogation is a routine move to allow his premiership, which only began in July, to start afresh with a new legislative programme.
But MPs see it as an attempt to silence them in the run-up to Brexit and believe documents will prove it.
Government minister Michael Gove warned their “desire to rifle through private correspondences of advisers is to set aside legal precedent and the rights of citizens”.
– ‘Downgrade parliament at our peril’ –
Britons voted in June 2016 to leave the EU but after three years of political wrangling, parliament still cannot decide how to implement the decision.
Johnson says he is working to revise the deal agreed by his predecessor, Theresa May, which MPs rejected — but insists Brexit must happen next month no matter what.
However, he has no majority in the House of Commons, having expelled 21 MPs from his own Conservative party last week for voting for the rebel legislation.
The bill, which became law Monday, would force Johnson to delay Brexit to January or even later if he cannot get a deal with Brussels at a crucial EU summit on October 17-18 — or persuade MPs to back no deal.
In response, the premier called a snap election for early next month, but MPs refused to support him — and a second attempt later on Monday also looks doomed as it is opposed by opposition leaders.
The turmoil deepened when Bercow announced that he will step down by October 31 at the latest — with a few shots aimed at the government in his speech.
“We degrade this parliament at our peril,” he warned lawmakers, to a sustained standing ovation from largely opposition MPs.
Eurosceptics dislike Bercow for a perceived anti-Brexit bias, but he has been praised by supporters for sticking up for parliament’s right to have a say in the tortuous Brexit process
He fought back tears as he thanked his wife and children for their support.
– ‘Significant gaps remain’ –
Johnson had earlier visited Dublin for talks with his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar, a key player in the search for a Brexit deal.
MPs rejected the current agreement three times earlier this year, in large part because of its provisions to keep open the border between British Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.
Johnson wants to scrap the so-called “backstop” plan, which would keep Britain aligned to EU trade rules long after Brexit to avoid any checks at the frontier.
But the EU accuses him of offering no alternative.
“Common ground was established in some areas although significant gaps remain,” the two leaders said in a joint statement following an hour of talks.