Rebellious U.K. lawmakers launch audacious bid to derail Boris Johnson's Brexit plan

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By Patrick Smith  with NBC News World News
Image: Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson addresses the media outside D
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks to the media outside Downing Street in London on Monday.   -   Copyright  Simon Dawson

LONDON — Rebellious British lawmakers have launched an audacious bid to stop the U.K. from leaving the European Union by the deadline of Oct. 31 without a deal.

Just six weeks into his tenure at 10 Downing Street, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has staked his reputation on making Brexit happen next month "do or die" after two previous deadlines were missed amid growing dissent in Parliament and political polarization around the country.

Simon Dawson
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks to the media outside Downing Street in London on Monday.Simon Dawson

But in what has become a crucial week for U.K. and European politics, a coalition of Conservative lawmakers, former Conservative ministers and opposition party members were set to table a motion in the House of Commons on Tuesday stop Johnson's plans.

Some experts have warned that leaving without an agreement ensuring some sort of legal and regulatory continuity — a "no deal" Brexit — would devastate the economy.

Philip Hammond, a senior Cabinet minister under former Prime Minister Theresa May and an outspoken opponent of Johnson's Brexit stance, told the BBC Tuesday morning there were enough rebels to take control and block Brexit temporarily.

"I am going to defend my party against incomers, entryists, who are trying to turn it from a broad church to narrow faction," he said, referring to a recent influx of die-hard pro-Brexit supporters who have swelled the Conservatives ranks.

"People who are at the heart of this government, who are probably not even members of the Conservative Party, who care nothing about the future of the Conservative Party, I intend to defend my party against them," he added, in apparent reference to Dominic Cummings— a senior aide to Johnson and a key figure in the Brexit movement.

The motion will be debated on Tuesday evening, and if it passes the government will lose control of the parliamentary agenda and will no longer decide which bills are to be voted on — a key role as each side tries to win control over the legislative process and thus the country's approach to Brexit.

The vote is expected to be close.

Johnson's party has a majority of just one in the House of Commons, and so far 14 Conservatives have publicly committed to voting against the government. Johnson has said any Conservatives who do so would be expelled from the party.

"I don't think unprecedented is too strong a word. It is huge," said Tim Bale, politics professor at Queen Mary University of London. "The legislature actually mandating the actions in foreign policy of the U.K. prime minister — that's certainly not something we've seen before in parliamentary history."

If Johnson loses, the government is then widely expected to call for a snap general election in October, before the Brexit deadline, in an attempt to win a mandate for a "no deal" Brexit.

Should he then lose an election, Johnson would become the country's shortest-serving prime minister.

However, the government needs two-thirds of Members of Parliament to agree to an election — and with the opposition Labour Party trailing in the polls, some Labour figures have cautioned against backing it. Former Labour leader Tony Blair called an October election an "elephant trap" that Labour should avoid.

Signalling the worsening state of the civil war in the governing party, former cabinet minister Justine Greening, another vocal critic of a "no deal" Brexit who represents the Remain-voting constituency of Putney in south London, announced she would not stand as a Conservative again.

Meanwhile, Westminster was briefly distracted Monday by the arrival of a new resident at 10 Downing Street — not a new prime minister, but a 15-week-old rescued Jack Russell-cross puppy called Dilyn.

It is not know what this development means for Number 10's current four-legged inhabitant, Larry the cat, who is "Chief Mouser" to the Cabinet Office.