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Conservatives Suffer Parliamentary Defeat, Johnson To Call For Snap Election


Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson lost a dramatic vote in Parliament yesterday, and he may be on his way to losing another vote today. Here's what's happening. Johnson wants to get Brexit done. He wants to leave the European Union by the end of October, with or without a deal for trade and immigration and lots of other things. Rebel lawmakers in Johnson's own party blocked him. Frank Langfitt is on the line from London. Hi, Frank.


KING: So this all happened in Parliament yesterday, and it was really striking. Tell us what you saw. What happened?

LANGFITT: What happened is Parliament took control of the legislative agenda, which normally is in the hands of the prime minister. And in order to do that, they had a vote, which they won easily. This is what it sounded like - here's House Speaker John Bercow announcing the results.


JOHN BERCOW: Order. Order. The ayes to the right - 328; the no's to the left - 301.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Not a good start, Boris.

LANGFITT: Yeah, so not a good start, Boris - that's one of his detractors in the House of Commons pointing out that Boris Johnson has only been in office, the prime minister, for a little more than 40 days, and he already got - he already had a big loss.

What's going to happen today, Noel, is the House of Commons is going to come back; they're going to vote on blocking Boris Johnson from pulling the United Kingdom out of the European Union with no deal. And that would force him - if it goes through the House of Lords, that would force him to go back to Brussels to get a new - some kind of new arrangement, some kind of new withdrawal agreement or ask for yet another extension, which Boris Johnson, in the past, has vowed he would never do.

KING: So how is he responding to this overt rebellion?

LANGFITT: Well, what he says is, if they pass it today, if the House of Commons gets this through, he's going to call for a general election and that he would ask for a date on the 14. But in order to do that, he can't just do it willy-nilly; he's going to need support from Parliament to do that. And there's signs that the opposition Labour Party, which is led by Jeremy Corbyn, would object to this, even though they want to have an election. And the reason for that is they simply do not trust Boris Johnson. They think this is a trick, that what he'll do is he'll try to hold an election, push it off past October 31 and crash the country out.

So we're going to have two votes today. The first one should probably pass; the second one, Labour may oppose him, and we may not immediately have a setup for a general election.

KING: What is the reason for calling for a general election? What's behind that?

LANGFITT: Well, I think that Johnson doesn't have any choice at this moment. He had, going into yesterday's vote, simply a one-vote majority in Parliament, which isn't much, and he lost that literally in the House of Commons. A member of his party stood up and walked to another group, another party called the Liberal Democrats, and defected in front - you know, on television, in front of everybody.

KING: Wow.

LANGFITT: So - and now he has gotten rid of other people in his party. So he needs to go back to the voters, and what he hopes to get is a sizable majority in the Parliament so he can get something done. And ultimately, his promise to the people of the United Kingdom is, I'm going to get the country out of the European Union, one way or the other.

KING: Frank, just quickly - how is it going over that Boris Johnson kicked the rebels out of the party?

LANGFITT: Terribly. What he did is he expelled people who had been in the party for decades, people who are national names in this country. And to be fair, they were voting their conscience. There was no political advantage for them doing this. And so people are very upset by it.

KING: NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Frank, thanks so much.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.