Johnson challenges Corbyn to back election as Brexit vote fallout continues
Boris Johnson challenged Jeremy Corbyn to back an October 15 general election as he battled against efforts to delay Brexit.
The Prime Minister suggested the Labour leader was running scared from the ballot box after Mr Corbyn made clear he would not back an election until a no-deal Brexit was taken off the table.
MPs will consider a backbench bill to delay Brexit in order to prevent a no-deal withdrawal from the European Union on October 31 after Mr Johnson was defeated in his first Commons vote as Prime Minister on Tuesday night.
At his first Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson called it a “surrender bill” which would “wreck any chance of the talks” to achieve a new deal with Brussels.
The Prime Minister has insisted he will not ask for a delay beyond October 31 and has called for a snap election – something that will need the support of Labour MPs to ensure the required two-thirds majority in the Commons.
He challenged Mr Corbyn: “Can he confirm now that he will allow the people of this country to decide on what he is giving up in their name with a general election on October 15 – or is he frit?”
Mr Corbyn questioned the Prime Minister over reports his strategy in Brexit talks was to “run down the clock” ahead of the deadline.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister faced a backlash over his decision to throw Tory rebels out of the parliamentary party after their disloyalty in Tuesday night’s vote.
Mr Johnson removed the whip from 21 Conservative MPs after they voted against the Government in order to allow time for the backbench bill to be debated on Wednesday.
Those sacked include Philip Hammond, David Gauke and Rory Stewart – all of whom were serving in Theresa May’s Cabinet just weeks ago. Party stalwarts Ken Clarke and Sir Nicholas Soames, Winston Churchill’s grandson, were also dismissed.
Former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson said on Twitter: “How, in the name of all that is good and holy, is there no longer room in the Conservative Party for @NSoames? #anofficerandagentleman.”
Former Tory Party chairman Lord Kenneth Baker said: “These 21 MPs are not parvenus seeking to infiltrate the party, they are lifelong Tories in their mind and in their bones.”
He warned that the party owed its success to being a broad church which had kept policy decisions out of the hands of “swivel-eyed ideologues” and called for the 21 to be allowed to stand again for the Conservatives at the next election.
But Business Minister Kwasi Kwarteng defended the action.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It was very clearly stated that Conservative MPs would lose the whip.
“Now 21 of them out of 312 – that is about 6% – chose to vote against the Government and they had the whip withdrawn.
“I think it is a shame – a lot of them are very talented people. But you cannot have people standing as Conservative MPs when they are against the Government’s policy on the key issue of the day.”
Mr Stewart, who was a candidate in the recent Tory leadership race, said he was told about the decision to withdraw the whip by text message.
He called it an “astonishing moment” at the end of what has been a hectic six-week period for the Penrith and the Border MP, after his high-profile leadership bid.
“It feels a little bit like something you associate with other countries – one opposes the leader, one loses the leadership race, no longer in the cabinet and now apparently thrown out of the party and one’s seat too,” he said.
The pro-Withdrawal Agreement politician said Mr Johnson’s tactics could “divide this country” for more than a generation if he continues to push through a no-deal Brexit without Parliament’s consent.
He said: “One of the strongest reasons why this is the wrong thing to do is because to deliver Brexit like this is to create a poison pill which for 40 years will divide this country straight down the middle.
“If you are going to deliver Brexit at all, try to do it legally, constitutionally and with consent.”
Sir Keir Starmer, Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, predicted trouble ahead for the Tory party.
“To be honest, removing the whip from well-regarded Tory MPs that have served their party for years amounts to Johnson and (the PM’s adviser Dominic) Cummings destroying their own party. That will not end well,” Sir Keir told the BBC.