Britain’s opposition Labour Party began its campaign to bring down Prime Minister Boris Johnson, urging lawmakers to back a no-confidence vote and unite behind a caretaker government led by Jeremy Corbyn to prevent a no-deal Brexit.
Johnson has promised to take Britain out of the European Union by Oct. 31, with or without a deal, setting the scene for a showdown in parliament where lawmakers are opposed to a divorce without a transition agreement.
However, the scale of the challenge facing anti-Brexit forces was immediately made clear when the leader of pro-EU party the Liberal Democrats described the proposal as nonsense and Labour leader Corbyn as the wrong man for the job.
In a letter to opposition party leaders and several senior rebel Conservatives, Corbyn said his “strictly time-limited temporary government” would delay Brexit and hold an election.
He said Labour would then campaign in the election for a second referendum on the Brexit terms, including an option as to whether Britain should remain after all.
“This government has no mandate for No Deal, and the 2016 EU referendum provided no mandate for No Deal,” Corbyn said. “I therefore intend to table a vote of no confidence at the earliest opportunity when we can be confident of success.”
A spokeswoman for Johnson’s Downing Street office said the Labour leader was showing contempt for the 2016 referendum. “Jeremy Corbyn believes that the people are the servants and politicians can cancel public votes they don’t like,” she said.
Lawmakers return from their summer break on Sept. 3 for a battle over Brexit that will determine the fortunes of the world’s fifth-largest economy. Labour’s business spokeswoman said a challenge in parliament could come days later.
Johnson, who led the 2016 campaign to leave the EU, has staked his premiership on getting Britain out by Oct. 31 and accused lawmakers standing in his way of “collaborating” with Brussels. His approach has prompted politicians from all sides to try to stop him but they have failed yet to agree on a united way forward.
Johnson has a working majority in parliament of just one seat, including several lawmakers who have said they could vote to bring down the government.
Were the government to lose a no-confidence vote, lawmakers would have a 14-day period to try to form a new administration, otherwise a parliamentary election would be called, which could be held after the Oct. 31 exit date.
Opponents of a sudden departure without a transition deal say it would be a disaster for what was one of the West’s most stable democracies, shattering supply chains, damaging global growth, and weakening Britain’s standing in the world.
Brexit supporters say while there may be short-term disruption, it would provide a clean break from the struggling bloc and eventually allow the economy to thrive. The pound, which has tumbled in recent weeks as the prospect of a turbulent exit has increased, was largely unmoved by Corbyn’s proposal.
Parliamentary votes have shown there is a small majority against a no-deal Brexit. Corbyn, a low-key Remain campaigner during the 2016 referendum, has been under pressure within his party to step up efforts to prevent it from happening.
He said he hoped his proposal to lead a caretaker government could “halt the serious threat of No Deal, end the uncertainty and disarray, and allow the public to decide the best way ahead.”
But Corbyn, a veteran socialist, is a highly divisive figure in parliament and could struggle to form a majority of his own.
While the political turmoil of the last year has led to an unprecedented level of cross-party cooperation, many in Johnson’s Conservative Party and others would still find it difficult to vote for a Corbyn-led administration.
In one of the first responses to Corbyn’s proposal from a Conservative politician, Alistair Burt, a former foreign office minister who is opposed to a no-deal Brexit, said he could not support the Labour leader.
Jo Swinson, the new leader of the pro-EU Liberal Democrat party which has 14 lawmakers in the 650-seat parliament, said Corbyn could not even secure the backing of his own party.
“I would expect there are people in his own party and indeed the necessary Conservative backbenchers who would be unwilling to support him,” she said. “It is a nonsense.”
Swinson said a more centrist politician such as the Conservative’s Ken Clarke or Labour’s Harriet Harman could be capable of commanding a majority across the House to navigate the country through Brexit.