LONDON – Boris Johnson is stuck.
Against all the odds, he secured a Brexit deal during talks in Brussels — but he has failed to get it ratified in the U.K. Parliament, and he can’t even get the election he wants to break the deadlock.
The prime minister tried for a third time Monday to trigger a snap poll to end the impasse and was rebuffed again by the House of Commons.
Yet the signs are he won’t have long to wait before firing the starting gun on the country’s third general election campaign in a tumultuous four years. He will try again on Tuesday to get Parliament to allow an early election to take place, this time using an easier legal route.
“We will not allow this paralysis to continue,” Johnson told MPs after the vote. “One way or another, we must proceed straight to an election.”
Almost 3½ after the U.K. voted to leave the European Union, the country remains locked in limbo with its long-term relationship to the 500-million strong trading bloc no closer to clarity.
Earlier on Monday, envoys from European governments considered the U.K.’s political chaos from a meeting room in Brussels.
They decided Britain needs more time to sort out its plans and agreed to extend the deadline from Thursday — the date the country had been due to exit the bloc — to Jan. 31.
That allows a clear window for British politicians to put their rival visions for Brexit to voters in a general election. Johnson and his team say Parliament is broken and “dead,” and needs to be dissolved.
They want a Conservative majority government, but in order to trigger that election they needed a supermajority of two-thirds of MPs to vote for it. Johnson’s third attempt to win that vote failed on Monday and he said instead he will propose a one-line bill, a basic piece of legislation, changing the date set in law for the next election to Dec. 12.
He will only need a simple majority in the Commons, rather than two-thirds of MPs, for the bill to pass. Opposition legislators from the Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party have indicated they are willing to back a motion along similar lines, though their support is not yet certain.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said they needed a “cast iron assurance” the government won’t try to try to reintroduce the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill while election bill is going through stages of parliament, or before parliament is dissolved for an election.
The risk for Johnson is that politicians could try to amend his one-line bill to set conditions on the election that he will not like.
Either way, Johnson made clear he is giving up on his attempt to get his Brexit deal ratified in Parliament before the election. There is “no support” among MPs for pushing through the law implementing his divorce agreement in the short time available, he said.
With the U.K. still in the EU, the poll, when it comes, is likely to turn into a proxy referendum on Brexit.
It will be potentially the final opportunity for voters to choose between parties offering to stop Brexit or force through the split at any cost.