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Will Boris Johnson’s Political Coup Succeed?

The UK's prime minister is probably right to think that suspending Parliament has made a last-minute Brexit deal more likely. Fortunately, there is also a decent chance that his quasi-dictatorial behavior will provoke a rapid parliamentary backlash that ends his political career.

LONDON – The long-running tragicomedy of the United Kingdom’s relationship with the European Union is, at long last, approaching its climax. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s maneuver to suspend the UK Parliament for almost the entire period leading up to the Brexit deadline of October 31 was described by Speaker of the House John Bercow as a “constitutional outrage,” but it had one advantage. It confronted the 650 Members of Parliament with a clear binary choice. Either a majority of MPs will vote in the first week of September to replace Johnson with a new caretaker prime minister, or they will leave him with unconstrained power to implement his threat of a no-deal Brexit, putting Britain on a collision course with the EU. That choice, in turn, will have big implications for the EU’s future.

So, how will events unfold? When MPs return from their summer recess in the first week of September, Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, will almost certainly present a no-confidence motion to remove Johnson from power. Because Johnson’s Conservatives and the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party hold a combined majority in the House of Commons of just one vote, and given that a considerable number of Tories oppose a no-deal Brexit, there is a high probability that Johnson will lose.

But that would not be enough to force Johnson’s resignation. Under the 2011 Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, if a prime minister loses a no-confidence vote, Parliament must either vote for a replacement within 14 days or the defeated government remains in place and organizes a general election at a time of its choosing within about three months, easily long enough for Johnson implement his promise of “Brexit, do or die” by October 31. The only way to prevent this would be to elect a new prime minister; with Parliament now due to be suspended, that vote would have to take place before September 9.

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