U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson began moves to trigger a snap general election after suffering a humiliating defeat for his Brexit strategy that left his ruling party in tatters.
A fresh poll to choose a new government would mark the climax of the political chaos that has engulfed Britain for the past three years since the country voted narrowly to leave the European Union in a referendum in 2016.
That Brexit vote ended the premiership of David Cameron and the failure to deliver on it saw his successor, Theresa May, forced out in July. Now after only six weeks in the top job, Mr. Johnson himself is staring into the abyss, with Brexit divisions shredding his Conservative administration.
On Tuesday, he lost his ruling majority when one of his own Tory MPs defected to join the Liberal Democrats. Six hours later, Mr. Johnson’s first test in a Commons vote ended in a heavy and damaging defeat. He retaliated by firing rebels from his party.
Members of the House of Commons voted 328 to 301 to take a crucial first step toward forcing the prime minister to delay Brexit by three months in an effort to stop a no-deal split. It’s a delay he has repeatedly rejected under all circumstances.
In all, 21 Conservatives defied Mr. Johnson and voted against him, effectively sacrificing their careers in politics as his officials immediately began expelling the rebels from the party for failing to obey the premier’s orders. Rebels punished in this way included former Chancellor Philip Hammond.
Mr. Johnson warned his enemies that if they do not back down Wednesday, he will go further and try to break up Parliament to trigger a general election.
But that too could backfire: He needs the support of the opposition Labour Party for an election, and he may not get it. What happens now depends on events in Parliament in the hours ahead.
On Wednesday, Mr. Johnson’s opponents will seize control of the Commons agenda and put forward their own draft law that would force him to delay Brexit until Jan. 31. They are trying to stop him from carrying out his threat to take Britain out of the EU without a divorce agreement if necessary on Oct. 31, fearing that a no-deal split would be economically disastrous.