What just happened in British politics and what comes next?
The bravado of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s premiership turned into bluster in a mere two days.
Johnson political strategy is backfiring after he faced a series of stinging defeats, a lost majority and the resignation of his brother, Jo Johnson.
Lawmakers ruled out a no-deal Brexit
This week’s drama began Tuesday. Outraged by Johnson’s approved five-week suspension of Parliament, lawmakers returned from summer recess and voted to take control of the parliamentary agenda.
The tumultuous day saw Johnson fire a number of longstanding Conservative lawmakers — including Conservative party grandee Kenneth Clarke and Winston Churchill’s grandson Nicholas Soames — and lose his working majority as a Conservative MP crossed the floor and joined the Liberal Democrats.
The Prime Minister, who has been in power for just six weeks, seemed to struggle through a punishing session of Prime Minister’s Questions, the first of his premiership, on Wednesday.
He was humiliated again on the same day, when a rebel bill to block a no-deal Brexit passed by 328 votes to 301. A loss unprecedented in the modern era.
The government caved in the Lords
That was not the end of it. A Conservative bid to filibuster the bill was now on the cards, according to critics.
For a bill to pass, it has to go through Parliament’s unelected upper chamber, the House of Lords. While of limited powers, the Lords has the ability to pass the bill or send it back to the House of Commons with amendments.
And that was the play on Wednesday evening. Conservative House of Lords members laid down nearly 100 amendments to the bill, setting up a marathon session that peers came prepared for.
In a tweet on Wednesday, Richard Newby, leader of the Liberal Democrats group in the House of Lords, said he had brought a “duvet, change of clothes and shaving kit” for the night ahead.
But in the early hours of Thursday morning, the peers lined up against the rebel bill caved in.
“I am grateful that we are now able to confirm that we will be able to complete all stages of the bill in a time-honored way by 5 p.m. Friday,” Angela Smith, Baroness Smith of Basildon, said from the Lords chamber in the early hours of Thursday.
The bill is due to return to the Commons Monday and receive royal assent later that day. Once law, it will place a legal duty on Johnson to seek a Brexit extension if he cannot secure a deal with the European Union in the coming weeks.
The PM was denied his wish for early elections
The PM, while publicly claiming he does not favor an election, had hoped a new vote would break the deadlock over Brexit by returning him to power with an increased majority.
But after binding Johnson’s hands and preventing him from taking the UK out of the EU without a negotiated deal, lawmakers denied his demand for an early election on Wednesday evening.
Johnson’s brother quit
The world’s oldest political party continued to tear itself apart on Thursday when Johnson’s brother announced his resignation as a government minister and Conservative Party MP.
“In recent weeks I’ve been torn between family loyalty and the national interest,” Jo Johnson wrote on Twitter in a move that signaled that he had chosen the latter.
The night before, the so-called “One Nation” Conservative caucus wrote to Johnson imploring him to reinstate the 21 rebel lawmakers.
“This evening we met as a Caucus and have collectively agreed that the events of the last few days has shown a purge is taking place of moderate colleagues in the Parliamentary Party. This cannot, and is not right!,” the group wrote on Twitter.
“If your ambition is to unite the party and the country, last night’s actions have hindered that mission,” One Nation group leader and former Cabinet minister Damian Green wrote in a statement.
What comes next?
An election is likely still on the way at some point
Even though Johnson’s motion for an election was defeated in Parliament on Wednesday, a new poll is almost certainly on the cards sometime soon, and his government plans to resubmit the motion on Monday.
Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said he would support a snap election once a no-deal Brexit has been ruled out, so it’s possible he will be up for it, now the bill is a virtual lock to become law.
The sticking point, however, could be the date. The Prime Minister is seeking elections on October 15 — two weeks before the October 31 Brexit deadline. Some opposition lawmakers fear that if Johnson was victorious in an election, he would find a way to circumvent the no-deal bill, and take Britain out of the EU on Halloween without a deal.
So it’s possible that Labour will decide against granting Johnson’s wish for new elections until after October 31.
Regardless of when the next election is held, it is far from clear who would win it.
Polls put the Conservative party at least six points ahead of Labour since Johnson took power in July. But the loss of the popular lawmaker Ruth Davidson, who resigned as leader of the Scottish Conservatives last week, could see the Conservatives lose as many as 10 seats north of the English border in another election.
This does not bode well for Johnson’s aim of a Conservative majority and could mean Britain is heading for its second hung parliament in two years.
In the best-case scenario, Johnson could end up with enough Brexiteer Conservative MPs to gain back a majority, ditch the DUP of Northern Ireland (which currently props up his government), and ram through the legislation he needs to stop an Article 50 extension.
Another Brexit delay seems inevitable
The EU Council summit in mid-October is highly unlikely to result in some sort of new Brexit deal, according to Brussels diplomats. So as per the bill, Johnson will have to ask for the third delay to Brexit — a move sure to disappoint hardline Brexit supporters.
“We are not optimistic at all that this is going to end well, and not sure the UK government has a plan, and that the UK government when it returns on the 15th [October] that it will be in a state where it wants to do a deal,” one diplomat told CNN.
As the clock ticks to October 31, there are more questions than solutions to the UK’s Brexit quagmire.
CNN’s Richard Allen Greene, Ivana Kottasová and Eliza Mackintosh contributed to this piece.