Prime Minister Boris Johnson taunted his rivals on his return to parliament on Wednesday, goading them to either bring down the government or get out of the way to allow him to deliver Brexit.
Waving his arms and yelling “come on, come on”, Johnson implored his opponents in a raucous House of Commons session to bring a vote of no-confidence in the government and trigger an election to finally break the Brexit impasse.
But once again the leaders of the opposition parties, including Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, refused to engage. They said they would only agree to an election once Johnson had ruled out leaving the European Union without a deal.
Britain faces an October 31 deadline to leave the EU, but after three years of political crisis, with parliament unable to agree on a strategy, it remains unclear when, if or on what terms the country will leave the bloc it joined in 1973.
“This Parliament must either stand aside and let this government get Brexit done or bring a vote of confidence and finally face the day of reckoning with the voters,” Johnson said, adding he would not “betray the people” over Brexit.
Corbyn and opposition parties have already forced through a new law requiring the government to ask for a delay to Brexit if it fails to secure a deal by October 19, but it remains unclear whether the prime minister would abide by it.
Johnson, often compared to US President Donald Trump in his approach to governing, said he would not request an extension even if the conditions of the law were met, but also said he would obey the rules and deliver Brexit by October 31.
Corbyn said no one could trust the prime minister, telling him: “If you want an election, get an extension.”
A Labour source said the party would not take up the prime minister’s offer of a no confidence vote on Thursday “while there’s the threat of Johnson using it to ram through a no deal before polling day”.
Johnson was appearing in parliament for the first time since the Supreme Court ruled he had acted unlawfully in advising Queen Elizabeth to suspend parliament.
Having lost his majority and a series of parliamentary votes on Brexit, Johnson had suspended the House of Commons for five weeks. But the country’s top court ruled the closure was void in one of the most humiliating legal defeats for a prime minister.
Parliament remains in deadlock, with Johnson intent on leading Britain out of the EU with or without an exit agreement while most lawmakers are determined to block a no-deal scenario, fearing it will cause huge economic disruption.
His demands for an election have already been rejected twice.
Running out of options and with an eye on an election campaign, Johnson sought on Wednesday to paint his opponents as not just opposed to a no-deal Brexit, but opposed to Brexit altogether: defying the will of the British people.
Johnson’s spokesman said the opposition’s refusal to trigger an election would be taken by the government as a green light to carry on with its Brexit strategy, to leave by Oct. 31. “It’s time to put up or shut up,” he said.
As lawmakers around the House shouted “resign, resign”, Johnson said his opponents were refusing to agree to an election for fear that they would not win power.
“I think the people of this country can see perfectly clearly what is going on,” he said. “The leader of the opposition and his party do not trust the people.”
Britain’s vote to leave the EU in 2016 revealed a country that was deeply divided over much more than Brexit, and tensions have risen ever since, both inside and out of the House.
On Wednesday, many lawmakers from Labour urged the prime minister to tone down his rhetoric and to avoid using the language of surrender and betrayal. Many invoked the memory of their colleague Jo Cox who was murdered just before the vote.
After one lawmaker Paula Sherriff told the House she had received death threats, with many echoing the prime minister’s own words, Johnson replied: “I have never heard so much humbug in my life”, sparking uproar on the opposition benches.
Ahead of Johnson’s appearance before lawmakers, his attorney-general, Geoffrey Cox, described the British parliament as “dead”. In a defiant outburst he labelled the government’s opponents as cowards for refusing to call an election.
Under questioning, he said the government would comply with the new law forcing the delay if no deal was struck.
With Johnson boxed in, he has repeatedly said he can strike a deal with the EU’s 27 other members at a summit on October 17-18.
However, EU negotiators say he has made no new proposals capable of breaking the deadlock over the issue of how to manage the border between Ireland, an EU member, and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, after Brexit.
“I think the people of this country have had enough,” Johnson said. “This parliament must either stand aside and let this government get Brexit done or bring a vote of confidence and finally face the day of reckoning with the voters.”
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