Published on September 3, 2019
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson lost his majority in the House of Commons on Tuesday with the defection of a Conservative member of Parliament to the opposition Liberal Democrats. That sets up an unpredictable chain of events that could derail Johnson’s promised Brexit strategy and throw the nation into a serious constitutional crisis.
Johnson’s loss of his majority almost surely means that his government will lose the vote scheduled for Tuesday evening on a bill designed to prevent a so-called no-deal Brexit. Since Johnson has stated he will not accept that bill if passed, this forces the opposition’s hand. It has two likely options: Sack him and replace him, or vote in favor of new elections in mid-October.
The first option is perilous because the opposition is fractured. The Labour Party has the largest number of seats in the opposition, but is far from a majority on its own. It needs the support of six other parties, independents and some Conservatives who are defecting from the government to form a narrow majority. Many of these MPs recoil at the thought of making the far-left Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, prime minister even for a short period of time. Thus, we may not see an opposition-backed prime minister unless Corbyn is willing to back someone else for the top job — something he has not indicated he would accept.
Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.