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Outgoing parliament deals new Brexit blow to British PM

Boris Johnson slammed the opposition for voting against his call for a snap poll next month, in the final minutes of a late-night debate ahead of a controversial five-week suspension of parliament called by the prime minister.

Britain's new Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives a speech outside 10 Downing Street in London on 24 July 2019 on the day he was formally appointed British prime minister. Picture: AFP

LONDON - Beleaguered British Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed to continue with his attempts to strike a new Brexit deal with Brussels, after losing yet another parliamentary vote on Tuesday to hold an early election.

Johnson slammed the opposition for voting against his call for a snap poll next month, in the final minutes of a late-night debate ahead of a controversial five-week suspension of parliament called by the prime minister.

He said he would "strive to get an agreement" at a summit in Brussels next month.

"While the opposition run from their duty to answer to those who put us here, they cannot hide forever," he said.

"The moment will come when the people will finally get their chance to deliver their verdict."

It was a final show of defiance in a stormy parliamentary session in which Johnson also lost a separate vote, calling on the government to publish confidential papers about the potential impact of a no-deal Brexit.

The opposition has said it will not allow an early election, which under British law requires a two-thirds majority in parliament in favour, until Johnson has either struck a deal or delayed Brexit beyond 31 October.

The prime minister insisted he would not delay, despite a bill being rushed through parliament in the past few days that could force him to do so if he fails to reach an agreement with the EU.

"This government will not delay Brexit any further," he insisted.

MPS' ANGRY PROTESTS

In a further sign of the political turmoil, House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, who has championed the rights of MPs to challenge the government, announced he was stepping down.

In exceptional scenes as the parliament shut down for five weeks, opposition Labour MPs waved signs reading "silenced", while one tried to restrain the speaker to prevent him leaving for the suspension ceremony.

Opposition MPs jeered and chanted "shame on you" as government MPs left the chamber, while Bercow, in protest, called the suspension "an act of executive fiat".

Johnson took office in July promising to deliver on the 2016 referendum vote for Brexit, even if that means leaving without exit terms agreed with Brussels.

But many MPs have rejected a no deal divorce and supported new legislation forcing Johnson to request a three-month delay if he fails to strike a deal.

His last chance to reach an agreement is at the two-day EU summit starting on 17 October.

Some commentators have said Johnson may be forced to resign if he does not want to make the delay request. Ministers have also hinted at a potential legal challenge against the law.

DEGRADING PARLIAMENT

Britons voted in 2016 to leave the EU, but after three years of political wrangling, parliament still cannot decide how to implement that decision.

Johnson says he wants to revise the deal agreed by his predecessor, Theresa May, which MPs rejected, but says this requires keeping open the option of walking away.

His wafer-thin majority in the Commons vanished last week when he expelled 21 of his own Conservative MPs for voting with Labour on the anti-no deal legislation.

The bill - which became law on Monday - would force Johnson to delay Brexit to January or even later if he cannot get a deal with Brussels.

The bill's passage through parliament prompted anger from the government.

But Bercow, accused by eurosceptics of being biased against Brexit, warned the government that it could not now ignore parliament as he announced that he will step down on 31 October.

"We degrade this parliament at our peril," he warned lawmakers, to a sustained ovation from largely opposition MPs.

'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," Johnson and Varadkar said in a joint statement following their talks.

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