Britain will head to the polls in the first December general election for almost 100 years after MPs repeatedly failed to find a way through the Brexit deadlock.
MPs voted — by a margin of 438 in favour and 20 against — to hold an election in six weeks’ time on Dec. 12. It will be the third time since 2015 that the country has been asked to choose a new government.
The decision represents a huge gamble for both Boris Johnson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. The prime minister is well short of a working majority in Parliament and needs to win key marginals to be sure of pushing his Brexit deal through, while the leader of the opposition is lagging well behind in the opinion polls.
Prior to the vote, both leaders faced pushback from sections of their parties over the decision to go for an election. Senior Tories were said to be furious that Johnson was not trying to get the Brexit withdrawal bill ratified at the same time, while there was anger and division in the parliamentary Labour party as its leadership came to a decision.
MPs and activists across the political spectrum had also expressed concerns about a winter election, fearing that the dark nights and fraught political climate could put their safety at risk, and have an impact on the amount of campaigning they are able to do.
The government's bill still has to pass through the House of Lords, but it is unlikely to be obstructed. Parliament will be dissolved next week.
Urging MPs to back an election, Johnson told the Commons at the start of the debate: "There is only one way to get Brexit done in the face of this unrelenting parliamentary obstructionism, this endless, wilful, fingers crossed, ‘not me guv’ refusal to deliver on the mandate of the people and that is to refresh this parliament and give the people a choice.”
Number 10 later revealed he had restored the Conservative whip to 10 of the 21 MPs he kicked out of the party over Brexit in September. They include former ministers Ed Vaizey, Greg Clark, Margot James, and Winston Churchill's grandson Nicholas Soames. It means they can stand as Conservative candidates in the election.
Tuesday’s vote was the fourth time the prime minister had sought agreement from MPs for a general election, and he was finally successful after he promised not to bring back his withdrawal agreement bill, the legislation paving the way for Brexit.
This pledge won support from the Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party, who will both fight an election on a ticket of stopping Brexit, although many of their MPs abstained on the third reading.
The government had sought an election on Thursday, Dec. 12, with opposition parties pushing for the earlier date of Monday, Dec. 9.
Ministers had warned changing the date would cause havoc for returning officers setting up polling stations after the weekend and said it would leave very little time for the election bill and key legislation for Northern Ireland to make it through the Commons before dissolution. Parliament ultimately voted to keep the date to Dec. 12.
Johnson's latest attempt to push through an election was given a major boost earlier on Tuesday when opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn said Labour would back the move for the first time.
“I have consistently said that we are ready for an election and our support is subject to a no-deal Brexit being off the table," the Labour leader said.
"We have now heard from the EU that the extension of article 50 to 31st January has been confirmed, so for the next three months, our condition of taking no-deal off the table has now been met. We will now launch the most ambitious and radical campaign for real change our country has ever seen."
Labour backbenchers who spent days lobbying the party's leadership against an election found their pleas had been ignored.
Labour was a huge 16 points behind in a poll over the weekend, and some in the PLP fear that to support the election is to hand Johnson a much-needed majority to deliver a hard Brexit.
Intervening as Corbyn spoke in the debate, Newcastle-under-Lyme Labour MP Paul Farrelly said he would not be voting in favour of an election. “I’d encourage as many of my colleagues as possible to defy the threats and blandishments to do so because the reality is that the uncertainty of an outcome of a general election certainly does not take no-deal off the table," he added.
Privately, some Labour staff also expressed dismay about the prospect of an election while the party is so unpopular, with one telling BuzzFeed News that in their view "winning is out of the question".
In Number 10, meanwhile, a battle had been raging this month between Johnson’s chief aide Dominic Cummings, other senior Number 10 officials, and Conservative ministers and MPs over what to do once his initial attempt to crash Brexit legislation through Parliament had failed.
The last time a general election was held in December was in 1923, and the last winter election took place almost 50 years ago in February 1974.