The most dramatic moments from the Brexit controversy this week, explained

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestured during his first Prime Minister’s Question Time.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestured during his first Prime Minister’s Question Time. Jessica Taylor/AFP/Getty Images/AFP/Getty Images

You’ve heard it before: There’s Brexit-related turmoil in London as Britain faces an Oct. 31 deadline to leave the European Union.

This week, tension boiled over as Parliament tried to block Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s threat to leave the EU without a trade deal in place if Parliament does not approve one. The stakes are high: former Prime Minister Theresa May resigned her post after Parliament rejected her Brexit deal three times, but without a deal, experts have warned, the country could face soaring food prices, medicine shortages, and major economic impacts.

Here are the most pivotal moments from this week and an explanation of what they mean:


A member of the Conservative Party defected to another party in the middle of Johnson’s speech:

Johnson’s promise to leave the European Union by Oct. 31, with or without a deal in place, so alarmed one Conservative lawmaker that he decided to leave the party and join the Liberal Democrats, who want to remain in the EU.

MP Phillip Lee defected in dramatic fashion. As Johnson was speaking Tuesday, Lee walked across the chamber and sat down with the Liberal Democrats, several of whom had to scooch over to make room. Members of the House of Commons tend to sit with other members of their party, so Lee’s defection was immediately apparent.

Lee said the party’s approach to Brexit “helped transform this once great Party into something more akin to a narrow faction, where an individual’s ‘conservatism’ is measured by how recklessly one wishes to leave the European Union.”

Johnson’s grip on Parliament was so slim that the defection resulted in the loss of his working majority.

MPs rebuked the government — then the expulsions began

Members of Parliament, including nearly two dozen from Johnson’s own Conservative Party, voted Tuesday to clear the way for a measure that would block Johnson from leaving the EU without a trade deal in place, defying the prime minister’s plans. Johnson argues such a measure would diminish his negotiating power with EU officials.


As the vote tally was announced on Tuesday, a Brexit opponent cried out, “Not a good start, Boris.”

The consequences for the Tory “rebels” were swift: Several high profile Conservatives were told they were being expelled from the party, meaning they continue to hold their seat in Parliament but must serve as an independent and may not be allowed to run for re-election as a Conservative.

Those who were to be expelled reportedly included Nicholas Soames, the grandson of Winston Churchill.

Another Conservative, Rory Stewart, told reporters he was told he would be expelled from the partyvia text message.

Johnson called opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn a ‘chlorinated chicken’ during Prime Minister’s Questions:

British prime ministers must stand before an often-boisterous House of Commons and take questions every Wednesday. Unlike in the United States, members of Parliament don’t hesitate to make their opinions known as the prime minister speaks: They’re known to make faces, jeer, clap, and interrupt.

And on Wednesday Johnson did not feel the need to hold back as he defended himself: During “Prime Minister’s Question Time,” Johnson called Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn a “chlorinated chicken” as they engaged in a heated exchange over the effects of a no-deal Brexit, occasionally punctuated by pleas for order by the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow (“Members must calm themselves.” “Some people used to believe in good behavior.”).

Corbyn blasted Johnson Wednesday for his attempt to prorogue Parliament (cut short its session).


“The prime minister has had two days in office before the summer recess and then planned to prorogue Parliament. Yesterday, he lost one vote, his first vote in Parliament, and he now wants to dissolve Parliament. He’s desperate, absolutely desperate to avoid scrutiny,” Corbyn said.

“Yes!” a woman off-camera shouted. “It’s your third day, Boris!”

Watch the exchange:

What’s next?

The lawmakers who voted to oppose Johnson on Tuesday voted Wednesday to delay Brexit once again if no deal is reached. The measure was then passed Friday the upper chamber, the House of Lords. Meanwhile, Johnson is seeking a general election ahead of the October deadline, believing the British public will back his plan to leave, deal or no deal. But Johnson needs the support of Parliament to make such a move, and so far Parliament has refused to go along.

Christina Prignano can be reached at christina.prignano@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @cprignano.