Boris Johnson has suffered another humiliating Commons setback as MPs refused to support his latest bid to stage a snap general election.
MPs voted by 293 votes to 46 in favour of holding an early election October 15 - well short of the two-thirds majority required under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. Labour and SNP MPs abstained in large numbers.
Reeling from his sixth defeat in six days, the prime minister lashed out at the “cowardice” of Jeremy Corbyn and other parties, claiming they feared the Tories would trounce them on polling day.
But with parliament set to be shut down for five weeks, the PM was accused of avoiding scrutiny as he pushes on with election campaign-style policy announcements and cash boosts for key services.
The fresh humiliation for his fledgling administration came as Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson announced that her party would campaign in any election to stop Brexit in its tracks, rather than support a new EU referendum.
Labour is currently committed to a referendum with both a ‘credible’ Leave option and Remain on the ballot paper, though its election manifesto has yet to be written.
Unveiling his snap election bid, the PM declared that opposition parties “have been trying to disguise their preposterous cowardice by coming up with ever more outrageous excuses for delaying an election until the end of October, or perhaps November or when hell freezes over”.
Johnson also claimed that Labour, the Lib Dems, SNP and other parties were costing the UK money in delaying both Brexit and an election, suggesting the sum amounted to £250 million a week.
“Why are they conniving to delay Brexit in defiance of the referendum, costing the country an extra £250 million a week for the privilege, enough to upgrade more than five hospitals or train 4,000 new nurses?”
“The only possible explanation is they fear that I will win it and secure a renewed mandate for a course of action they disagree with.”
It’s the second time in less than a week that the PM has failed to secure the two-thirds majority of the Commons needed to trigger an early election.
Earlier, Johnson was defeated a fifth time as MPs voted by 311 votes to 302 to force the publication of internal government documents on preparations for a no-deal Brexit and for the suspension of parliament.
Last week, he was hit by a major rebellion by 21 Tory MPs who voted to seize control of the Commons timetable and then to vote for Hilary Benn’s bill requiring him to seek an extension beyond October of the UK’s membership of the EU.
In the debate on Monday night, Corbyn hit back at Johnson: “I want an election. The Conservative Party has very generously broadcast footage of me and my friends saying we want an election. I do not retreat from that wish whatsoever. We are eager for an election.
“But as keen as we are for an election, we are not prepared to risk inflicting the disaster of No Deal on our constituents.”
Earlier, Swinson told the Guardian she would seek a policy at her party conference next week to campaign in an election to ‘revoke’ the Article 50 Brexit process under any circumstances.
“A majority Liberal Democrat government would not renegotiate Brexit, we would cancel it by revoking article 50 and remaining in the European Union,” she said.