LONDON (Reuters) – British lawmakers will on Tuesday try to stop Boris Johnson from pursuing what they cast as a calamitous no-deal Brexit, a challenge a senior government source said would prompt the prime minister to call for a snap election on Oct. 14.
More than three years since the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union in a referendum, the outcome of the Brexit crisis remains uncertain with a range of options from a turbulent no-deal exit to abandoning the entire endeavor.
Johnson implicitly warned lawmakers on Monday that he would seek an election if they tied his hands, ruling out ever countenancing a further delay to Brexit, scheduled for Oct. 31.
That sets up an historic Brexit showdown between prime minister and parliament in a country once touted as a confident pillar of Western economic and political stability. Sterling flirted with some of the lowest levels since 1985.
An alliance of opposition lawmakers and rebels in Johnson’s Conservative Party will use parliament’s first day back from its summer break to launch their attempt to block a no-deal exit. They are confident of victory.
“The priority is to prevent a no-deal exit from the EU on the 31st and we’ll see what happens after that,” opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said.
“Let’s see what happens after this legislation has gone through,” Corbyn said. “And if an election is called, I am absolutely ready to fight it.”
In the eye of the Brexit maelstrom, it was unclear if opposition parties would support a move to call an election – which requires the support of two-thirds of the 650-seat House of Commons.
The pound, which has gyrated to the rhetoric of Brexit since the 2016 referendum, fell to as low as $1.1959 GBP=D3. Barring a minutes-long “flash crash” in October 2016, the pound has not regularly traded at such low levels since 1985.
Fears of a no-deal Brexit were rising amid the chaos in London. The European Commission said such a scenario was a “very distinct possibility” and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said its was the most likely scenario.
The 2016 Brexit referendum showed a United Kingdom divided about much more than the European Union, and has fueled soul-searching about everything from secession and immigration to capitalism, empire and modern Britishness.
It has also triggered civil war inside both of Britain’s main political parties as dozens of lawmakers put what they see as the United Kingdom’s fate above that of party loyalty.
As Johnson played Brexit chess with lawmakers, opponents cast his tactics as undemocratic, including an order to suspend parliament for more than a month beginning next week. That has been followed by his threat to kick rebels out of the ruling party, including ministers who left the cabinet just weeks ago.
“I think we will have the numbers,” one of the rebels, Conservative former finance minister Philip Hammond, said. “Prime Minister Johnson has always intended that there will be an election.”
The rebel alliance will put forward an emergency motion for a vote on Tuesday allowing its members to seize control of the parliamentary agenda the following day to try to pass legislation that would force Johnson to seek a three-month delay to Britain’s EU exit.
Johnson raised the stakes, however, effectively turning it into a confidence vote by making clear that if the government were defeated, it would hold a vote on Wednesday to approve an early election, most likely to be held on Oct. 14.
“The prime minister’s mood is determined,” his spokesman said. “He wants to get on with delivering on the result of the referendum and the UK leaving the EU on October 31st, ideally with a deal.”
His spokesman cast the rebel’s bill as “a blueprint for legislative purgatory.”
While the British leader said he did not want a snap election, he raised the prospect of one, and a senior government source said lawmakers should be aware it would be a consequence of their decision to vote against the government on Tuesday.
“I don’t want an election. You don’t want an election. Let’s get on with the people’s agenda,” Johnson said at a hastily organized appearance outside Number 10 Downing Street.
Johnson has cast rebels as EU “collaborators” who are undermining the government’s negotiating hand by blunting his threat of a no-deal Brexit. Johnson’s foreign minister, Dominic Raab, criticized “shenanigans in parliament”.
Rebels say the government wants an election but is trying to blame lawmakers for triggering one.
U.S. investment bank JPMorgan said an election made a no-deal Brexit more likely.
GRAPHIC: Parliament’s active sitting days – here
GRAPHIC: Process of a no-confidence vote – here
GRAPHIC: Plummeting pound – here
Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Additional reporting by Kate Holton, Elizabeth Piper and Michael Holden in London; Richard Lough in Paris and Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Peter Graff