The government lost control of Commons business tonight as a cross-party group of MPs opposed to no deal succeeded in winning control of the order paper on Wednesday. The motion put forward by Tory MP Oliver Letwin passed by 328 votes to 301.
Just two Labour rebels voted against the Letwin motion – Kate Hoey and John Mann – as well as ex-Labour MPs Ian Austin and Ivan Lewis. 21 Conservative MPs defied their party whip to vote for the motion, including recent cabinet members Philip Hammond, David Gauke and Rory Stewart.
The dramatic result, bigger than expected, means parliament will consider the ‘Benn Bill’ tomorrow at 3pm after Prime Minister’s Questions. MPs backing the anti-no deal legislation aim to drive it through the Commons as a whole in one day, with the Second Reading taking place at 3pm and all remaining stages of the bill from 5pm to 7pm.
Boris Johnson confirmed in his response to the defeat that the government will move a motion for an early general election under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act. This route will require two-thirds of MPs to approve the motion for a snap poll.
Many Labour MPs are hesitant to vote for an early election and fall into Johnson’s “elephant trap”, as Tony Blair put it on Monday. The ‘FTPA’ path to an election does not involve setting an election date in law such as October 15th, which is the government’s current preference.
To make up for this omission, and due to deep distrust of Johnson, the Labour leadership is understood to have been in search of a way to fix the election date. This could allow the opposition party to help usher in a snap poll without accidentally approving no deal at the same time.