UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson suffered a major parliamentary defeat on Tuesday over his Brexit strategy on Tuesday, which could delay Britain’s exit from the European Union next month and force an early election.
Just six weeks after taking office, the Conservative leader was hit by a huge rebellion among his own MPs that leaves him without a working majority in the House of Commons.
They joined with opposition MPs to begin the process of drafting legislation intended to stop Johnson taking Britain out of the EU on October 31 if he has not agreed a deal with Brussels.
The prime minister had warned that anyone who voted against him would be expelled from the party.
He is now expected to table a motion for an early election before parliament on Wednesday, with the poll date expected before a crucial EU summit on October 17 and 18.
However, it is not certain he will succeed as it requires the support of two-thirds of MPs — and the opposition Labour party is deeply distrustful of Johnson’s motives.
The former London mayor took over as premier in July promising to finally deliver on the 2016 referendum vote for Brexit, after his predecessor, Theresa May delayed exit day twice.
Johnson says he wants to agree a divorce deal with Brussels, but says if this is not possible, Britain should leave the EU next month regardless.
However, there are not yet any formal negotiations with the EU and MPs are increasingly fearful of a disorderly divorce, which they believe could cause significant economic damage.
The heightened political tension sent the British pound tumbling on Tuesday to its lowest level against the dollar in almost three years.
It also spilled out onto the streets outside parliament, where anti-Brexit protesters gathered.
“Coming out of the EU with no deal at all is the worst possible option,” said John Wetherall, a retired chemical engineer carrying EU flags.