LONDON • British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has lost his working majority in Parliament after one of his Conservative lawmakers defected to the pro-European Union Liberal Democrats.
Mr Phillip Lee crossed the floor of the House of Commons yesterday, just as Mr Johnson began giving a statement on last month's Group of Seven summit.
"I have reached the conclusion that it is not possible to serve my constituents' and country's best interests as a Conservative Member of Parliament," Mr Lee said in a statement.
"This Conservative government is aggressively pursuing a damaging Brexit in unprincipled ways. It is putting lives and livelihoods at risk unnecessarily and it is wantonly endangering the integrity of the United Kingdom.
"It is using political manipulation, bullying and lies. And it is doing these things in a deliberate and considered way," he added.
He said the Lib Dems - who back another referendum on Brexit and want the UK to remain in the EU - were best placed to "heal the divisions" and "overcome the challenges we face as a society".
Before Mr Lee's defection, Mr Johnson had a working majority of only one in the Commons.
Mr Johnson had said earlier yesterday that he did not want to call an early election, again telling lawmakers in Parliament that to avoid such an outcome they should vote against a move aimed at stopping a no-deal Brexit.
CROSSING THE FLOOR
I have reached the conclusion that it is not possible to serve my constituents' and country's best interests as a Conservative Member of Parliament. This Conservative government is aggressively pursuing a damaging Brexit in unprincipled ways. It is putting lives and livelihoods at risk unnecessarily and it is wantonly endangering the integrity of the United Kingdom.
MR PHILLIP LEE
"I don't want an election, we don't want an election... we want to get the deal done and the best way... to get a deal is to support the government in the lobbies tonight," he told a rowdy session of Parliament.
Mr Johnson has vowed to take the country out of the EU on Oct 31, with or without a deal.
The British Parliament has been abuzz with rumours about various potential caretaker governments, all intended to postpone elections long enough to get the EU to extend the Oct 31 Brexit deadline.
Members of Mr Johnson's Conservative Party, including Mr Lee, had worked with opposition lawmakers to draft a Bill to force him to delay Brexit if he cannot agree on divorce terms with the EU in time.
They submitted a motion for an emergency debate to Speaker John Bercow and, if successful, they will bring forward the Bill forcing Mr Johnson to ask for Brexit to be delayed until Jan 31, unless MPs approve a new deal, or vote in favour of a no-deal exit, by Oct 19.
Mr Johnson raised the stakes, effectively turning it into a confidence vote. He had warned earlier that if the government were defeated, it would hold a vote today to approve an early election, most likely to be held on Oct 14.
"If an election is called, I am absolutely ready to fight it," Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said after a meeting with the leaders of other opposition parties, while adding that his priority was to prevent a no-deal Brexit.
The Labour leader also said the UK was "not at war with Europe" and it was a no-deal exit which would see the country "surrender" jobs, employment standards and social protections.
"His is a government with no mandate, no morals and, as of today, no majority," he said of Mr Johnson and the Conservatives.
The Lib Dems said they "are delighted to announce that Bracknell MP Phillip Lee has joined the party", and their leader Jo Swinson said of Mr Lee: "He shares our commitment to prevent a disastrous No Deal Brexit, and to stop Brexit altogether."
Sterling rebounded yesterday to hit US$1.2103 after Mr Johnson lost his working majority in Parliament.
"In the immediate near term, it makes a no-deal Brexit slightly less likely," Mr Fritz Louw, currency analyst at MUFG, said, adding, however, that the bounce was likely to be short-lived.
Meanwhile, fears of an abrupt "no-deal" Brexit were rising elsewhere. The European Commission said such a scenario was a "very distinct possibility" and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said it was the most likely scenario.
But US Vice-President Mike Pence said yesterday, ahead of a visit to London, that he believed Britain will be able to leave the EU by its latest deadline of Oct 31.
Mr Pence had used a news conference with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar earlier in the day to urge the EU to negotiate "in good faith" with Mr Johnson and reach a Brexit deal that respects UK sovereignty.
"I remain confident that if both parties will come to the table and negotiate in good faith, we truly believe that by the end of October a deadline can be met with Brexit," he told reporters.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE