Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Picture: REUTERS/PHIL NOBLE
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Picture: REUTERS/PHIL NOBLE

London — Britain’s opposition Labour Party began its bid to bring down Prime Minister Boris Johnson with a vote of no confidence, urging MPs to unite behind a caretaker government led by Jeremy Corbyn to prevent a no-deal Brexit.

Johnson has promised to take Britain out of the EU by October 31, with or without a deal, setting the scene for a showdown in parliament where legislators are opposed to a divorce without a transition agreement.

In a letter to opposition party leaders and several senior Conservatives opposed to a disorderly exit, Corbyn said his “strictly time-limited temporary government” would delay Brexit and hold a general election.

He said Labour would campaign in the election to hold a second referendum on the Brexit terms, including an option as to whether the country should remain in the bloc three years after it voted to leave.

“This government has no mandate for No Deal, and the 2016 EU referendum provided no mandate for No Deal,” Corbyn said. “I therefore intend to table a vote of no confidence at the earliest opportunity when we can be confident of success.”

A spokesperson for Johnson’s Downing Street office said the choice was clear: “This government believes the people are the masters and votes should be respected, Jeremy Corbyn believes that the people are the servants and politicians can cancel public votes they don’t like.”

Legislators return from their summer break on September 3, reconvening for a battle over Brexit that will determine the fortunes of the world’s fifth-largest economy.

Johnson, who led the 2016 campaign to leave the EU, has staked his premiership on getting Britain out by October 31, prompting politicians from all sides to try to stop him.

On Wednesday he said those trying to block Brexit were engaged in “a terrible kind of collaboration” with Brussels after former finance minister Philip Hammond said parliament would block a no-deal exit, and the government must respect it.

Parliament showdown

Were Johnson’s government to lose a no-confidence vote, legislators would have a 14-day period to try to form a new administration; otherwise a general election would be called, which could be held after the October 31 exit date.

Johnson has a working majority in parliament of just one seat, including several legislators who have said they could vote to bring down the government to block a no-deal exit.

The pound, which has tumbled in recent weeks as the prospect of a turbulent exit has increased, was flat against the dollar.

Opponents of a sudden departure without a transition deal say it would be a disaster for what was one of the West’s most stable democracies, shattering supply chains, damaging global growth, and weakening Britain’s standing in the world.

Brexit supporters say while there may be short-term disruption, it would provide a clean break from the bloc and allow the economy to thrive.

Parliamentary votes have shown there is a small majority against a no-deal Brexit. Corbyn, a low-key Remain campaigner during the 2016 referendum, has come under pressure from his own side to step up efforts to prevent it from happening.

He said he hoped his proposal to lead a caretaker government could “halt the serious threat of No Deal, end the uncertainty and disarray, and allow the public to decide the best way ahead for our country”.

But Corbyn, a veteran socialist, is a highly divisive figure in parliament and could struggle to form a majority of his own.

While the political turmoil of the last year has led to an unprecedented level of cross-party co-operation, many in Johnson’s Conservative Party and others would still find it difficult to vote for Corbyn.

Jo Swinson, the new leader of the pro-EU Liberal Democrat party which has 14 legislators in the 650-seat parliament, described the proposal as “nonsense”.

“Jeremy Corbyn is not the person who is going to be able to build an even temporary majority in the House of Commons for this task,” she said. “I would expect there are people in his own party and indeed the necessary Conservative backbenchers who would be unwilling to support him.”

Swinson announced late on Wednesday that Sarah Wollaston, a former Conservative legislator, had joined the Liberal Democrats. Wollaston suggested a more centrist politician from either Labour or the Conservatives, such as veteran Ken Clarke, could command a majority to navigate the country through Brexit.

Ian Blackford, the Westminster leader of the Scottish National Party with 35 seats, said he was open to discussing ways to block a no-deal Brexit. 

Reuters