LONDON: Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced a crucial vote in parliament on Tuesday (Sep 3) that could derail Britain's exit from the European Union next month and lead to early elections.
Johnson earlier lost his working majority in parliament with the dramatic defection of a party member ahead of a vote that could lead to MPs outlawing a no-deal Brexit.
In a heated parliamentary session, Johnson condemned a plan by lawmakers to block his Brexit strategy as "surrender" and said it would undermine his intention to negotiate a new divorce deal with the EU.
Opposition MPs and rebel members of his Conservative party are planning to vote for delaying beyond Oct 31 if he cannot agree exit terms with Brussels.
While Johnson was making his statement, Conservative MP Phillip Lee was seen crossing the floor of the Commons to sit with the pro-European Liberal Democrats.
Lee said in his resignation letter that the Conservative Party "has become infected with the twin diseases of populism and English nationalism" as a result of Brexit.
Around 15 Conservative MPs have said they will vote against the government, including Winston Churchill's grandson Nicholas Soames.
They all risk expulsion from the party.
MPs will vote on making time on Wednesday to introduce their bill and seek to get it through before parliament is suspended next week.
Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn said the move "may be our last opportunity" to prevent a chaotic no-deal Brexit.
Government minister Jacob Rees-Mogg responded that it sought to "confound the referendum result" after Britons voted for Brexit in 2016, and risked "subverting parliament's proper role".
Johnson's aides have warned that defeat in a first vote in the House of Commons expected at 2000 GMT on Tuesday would force him to call a snap election on Oct 14.
The rebels believe they have the numbers to force through the plan, which is backed by the main opposition Labour party and could delay Brexit to Jan 31.
Lee's defection means the prime minister no longer has a majority in the 650-seat chamber.
But losing the majority does not automatically bring down the government as this can only happen if the government loses a formal confidence vote.
On a day of high drama, an Edinburgh court also heard a legal challenge against Johnson's decision to suspend parliament next week for more than a month, which critics said was a bid to silence MPs.
The judge is expected to announce his ruling on Wednesday.
The heightened political tension sent the British pound tumbling on Tuesday to its lowest level against the dollar in almost three years.
It also spilled out onto the streets outside parliament, where anti-Brexit protesters gathered.
"Coming out of the EU with no deal at all is the worst possible option," said John Wetherall, a retired chemical engineer carrying EU flags.
US$16 BILLION LOST
Johnson took office less than six weeks ago, after his predecessor Theresa May was forced out over her failure to get her Brexit divorce deal through parliament.
From the start, he faced opposition from his own MPs who fear his threat of leaving the EU without an agreement with Brussels risks severe economic disruption.
Leaked government assessments have warned that no-deal could lead to food, fuel and medicine shortages.
UN economists also on Tuesday warned that Britain could lose at least $16 billion (14.6 billion euros) a year on exports to the European Union if it left without a deal.
"NO CONCRETE PROPOSALS"
Johnson has rejected the divorce deal on the table but insists he wants to reach an agreement with Brussels to ease the end of Britain's 46-year-old EU membership.
EU leaders have refused to reopen the current Brexit text but Johnson insists progress is being made, saying that only with a credible threat to walk away will he secure a new deal.
But critics note that there are no formal negotiations with Brussels, and both sides have stepped up preparations for a disorderly divorce next month.
Corbyn has repeatedly called for an election and warned that if the legislative route fails, he may try to force one by calling a confidence vote in the government.
But many Labour MPs fear a Conservative trap as their party is languishing in the polls.